In recent weeks, the nation has been treated to an unsettling sight: angry men with assault rifles protesting various state lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These demonstrations reached an ugly peak in Michigan last month—though they may yet worsen as the pandemic persists—when armed protesters rushed into the capitol building, and put on a chilling display of fury and intimidation.
They claimed to be exercising their democratic rights of free speech and gun ownership. But there is something profoundly undemocratic about this form of demonstration.
Michigan lawmakers were understandably shaken when the armed throng surged into the capitol atrium; some donned bulletproof vests. The protesters screamed in the faces of stoic policemen who refused them entry to the Senate gallery. Many demonstrators sported fatigues and tactical gear, and also dark face masks—not so much out of public-health concern, mind you, though that was surely a handy excuse to seem even more menacing.
One immediately wonders: Why the guns? Are they necessary for this protest—any protest? A cursory glance at modern history reveals that some of the most effective demonstrations were strictly nonviolent. What did the lockdown protesters hope to add to their message with ominous assault rifles that they could not otherwise convey? Were they unsure that onlookers would appreciate the intensity of their anger?
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