Protesters converge on Lansing for third demonstration over governor's stay home orders

On Thursday morning, a few hundred protesters congregated on the capitol lawn in Lansing for another demonstration in response to the executive orders that Michigan's governor has extended in response to COVID-19. Crowding under a rainy Thursday morning, vehicles and signs brandishing similar messages against the governor were spotted in Lansing.

On top of two previous events that saw their notoriety extend beyond the state's limits and into the national headlines and even the President's Twitter account, organizers from the Michigan United for Liberty group led the third demonstration, which started around 9 a.m. The group is one among many entities that have sued Gretchen Whitmer for her stay-home order.

Attendance to the protest, dubbed "Judgement Day" was lighter than previous demonstrations, likely due to inclement weather and the capitol building being closed Thursday. There was one incident where somebody brought an axe to the protest, however that individual was removed. 

Prior to the protest, it's organizing had received criticism from Whitmer earlier this week, as well as warnings from law enforcement.

"Our whole goal is that you don't even realize that we are there. You go there, you say your piece, and you go home," said 1 Lt. Mike Shaw, Michigan State Police.

That wasn't necessarily the case during the first two protests. During "Operation gridlock," thousands of vehicles jammed the streets of the capital as hundreds congregated on the capitol building's lawn. During the second protest, the protests spilled inside the capitol building where frustrations between protesters boiled over as the confronted security that blocked their access further.

Photos shortly after appeared online showing several men armed with assault rifles standing in the visitor's balcony in the Senate chambers. Some lawmakers said they felt threatened by their appearance, which proved to be one of many factors that likely filled contributed to the building's security staff addressing the presence of firearms being allowed in the chambers - despite protest signs being outlawed.

The Capitol Commission agreed to not vote on the issue, and would instead study the feasibility of the policy later on. 

However, by then several public officials from both political sides of the aisle had rebuked the protesters and urged them not to take measures that far next time. In addition to labeling them "jackasses," Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said any protester brandishing a weapon in the state capitol will be arrested.

After she authored a formal opinion stating the capitol commission had the right to regulate firearms in the legislature, Attorney General Dana Nessel warned that just like the first amendment can be limited in the state capitol, so can the second amendment.

“The presence of heavily armed protestors at the Capitol unnecessarily creates a powder keg dynamic that is dangerous to protestors, law enforcement and public servants reporting to work at the Capitol," she said. "My office will work in coordination with local authorities and the Michigan State Police to uphold our commitment to public safety.” 

A pair of signs outside the capitol building in Lansing.

At the core of the planned protest is Whitmer's stay-home order, which has confined people to their homes, shuttered non-essential businesses, and in the eyes of the protesters, overstepped their constitutional right.

"We will gather to raise awareness of the many hypocrisies of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and to give a voice to the voiceless," read a note from the event page. "We The People are done with the unfair coverage by the media, claiming we are racist right-wing extremists. We The People come from diverse backgrounds and political affiliations. We know our rights, and we stand for liberty."

RELATED: Michigan residents approve of Whitmer's handling of COVID-19 over Trump's, new poll shows

A similar allegation has been made by Republican lawmakers, who have sued the governor over her use of executive powers. The lawsuit was approved by the GOP-led legislature last week and signaled a heightening of tensions between Whitmer and her conservative counterparts over the best way to reopen the state.

It's worth noting that despite the attention the protests have gained, it appears much of the state still supports the governor's handling of the pandemic crisis. A poll of 8,000 adults conducted by the Washington Post-Ipsos looking at approval ratings of governors found 72% supported Whitmer, while only 25% disapproved.