President Donald Trump endorsed conservative protests against social distancing measures in three states immediately after Fox News aired a segment on the efforts, dumping gasoline on a movement that threatens the fragile consensus on steps public health experts say are preventing nightmarish death figures from the novel coronavirus.
Beginning at 11:19 a.m. ET, Fox’s America’s Newsroom ran a segment detailing a wave of protests against stay-at-home orders from governors of Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia. Fox aired a package featuring footage from a protest in Virginia and another in Minnesota, with Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin quoting the group “Liberate Minnesota” calling the stay-at-home order “an overreaction.” Co-anchor Ed Henry then interviewed a Michigan sheriff who is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order in that state.
Trump, who was apparently watching the segment, responded to it in real time by expressing support for the protests, sending multiple tweets saying, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”
Earlier this week, Fox hosts cheered on protests by conservative activists against Michigan’s stay-at-home order. As I noted at the time, “If Trump sees Fox’s protest coverage and endorses the effort, social distancing will become even more politically polarized. The hard-won progress in the fight against the virus could evaporate in an instant, leaving behind a shattered economy and an influx of COVID-19 deaths.”