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Michigan State Officials Plan For New Stay At Home Protest At Capitol

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is starting to lift restrictions on some businesses. Auto plants are firing up. Some residents have demanded more more quickly. Protesters, some of them armed, have been roaming the state Capitol, and some plan to return tomorrow. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: David Sherrick (ph) came to the last protest. The factory worker from Western Michigan does not like Governor Whitmer's emergency stay-at-home policies. At that protest, Sherrick followed the rules. He wore a face mask with a Stars and Stripes pattern and kept his distance from other protesters. But Sherrick said he also showed up to send a message and a threat.

DAVID SHERRICK: Eventually, we will do more than just this.

PLUTA: Many people did not distance or wear face coverings. Inside the Capitol, some jeered at lawmakers from the lobbies and the galleries and carried military-style firearms, which is allowed under Michigan's open-carry gun law. Some displayed nooses. Their anger was directed largely at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

But her critics appear to be in the minority. A statewide poll conducted last month found nearly 60% approved of her handling of the crisis. By contrast, fewer than half surveyed approved of President Trump's management of the outbreak after he criticized Whitmer, calling her that woman from Michigan. The governor says she finds protesters' calls to violence frightening, but she also thinks they are making a dangerous mistake.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: We do not want people to continue spreading COVID-19 because they're flouting the law. And that's precisely - the greatest threat is having to continue in the stay-home order because that's supposedly what they're protesting.

PLUTA: Guns at these rallies have become a concern. While Whitmer supports changing the Capitol's rules to ban firearms in most cases, she can't do that on her own. The public areas of the historic building are controlled by a commission. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued an official opinion that firearms can and should be banned at the Capitol and criticizes what happened at the last protest.

DANA NESSEL: That's not open carry. That's brandishing at minimum. It might even be felonious assault under certain circumstances, depending on how the threatening takes place. So you know, that's not acceptable behavior. You can't do that anywhere. Why could you do it on Capitol grounds?

PLUTA: Republican leaders in the legislature have also denounced the violent rhetoric and threatening behavior both on social media and at the last protest, though they still remain unwilling to restrict guns at the Capitol ahead of tomorrow's protest.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.