Who’s Behind the “ReOpen” protests?

Who’s Behind the “ReOpen” protests? May 5, 2020

“ReOpen” protests seem to be all over the news. Guntoting activists storming state capitals. Thugs in SUVs blocking ambulance access to hospitals. Nooses and swastikasShootings. Assaults. Who are they? Where did they come from? How did they organize so quickly?

The answer, it turns out, is completely unsurprising.

First, we know these are not oppressed workers rising up in a grassroots effort to return to their jobs. These people drive late-model pickups and SUVs, buy up expensive firearms and militia gear, and appear to have wealth far beyond the average American. The signs they carry don’t demand jobs as hairdressers and restaurant servers–they demand their hairdressers and restaurant workers get back to work. In fact, many of these protesters are currently spreading vicious memes around the Internet trying to show that the average American worker is lazy, entitled, and incentivized to stay home by current unemployment policy.

I followed one of these organizers and her peers down the rabbit hole, just far enough to get a sense of who they are. Audrey Whitlock runs the “Reopen NC” Facebook group, and is a protest organizer in her state. She also has COVID-19, likely contracted by her failure to isolate. What strikes me most about Whitlock is that—even knowing she is contagious, she rails against the required period of isolation and vows to return to public protests.

I took a look a Whitlock and her cohort, the administrators and moderators of ReOpen NC. I thought it would be an interesting case study. Not surprisingly, the two who listed their jobs were a business owner and a real estate investor. Others made ostentatious shows of wealth, such as offering five times the menu price for any restaurant that would open during lockdown. Also not surprising, these all appear to be conservative Evangelical Christians with the usual array of conspiracy theories, from Anti-Vaxxers to “murder hornet” schemes to Socialist cabals and beyond. One believes cervical exams are a conspiracy. Another is still posting against Kaepernick.

Out of respect for their privacy, I did not go any deeper than what these people themselves made publicly available on their own Facebook profiles, but undoubtedly there is much more where that came from.

So how do people like this organize? How do they get all their guns and SUVs and tin foil hats to the same place at the same time to cause the disturbances they do? Well, the year is 2020, and the obvious answer is the Internet.

A recent study reported on by Forbes took a look behind the “ReOpen” websites suddenly popping up across America. They found that these are not a grassroots effort—that well-established gun rights groups and other conservative organizations are registering these websites, sometimes in large batches, to whip up political frenzies over this new issue. In particular, they found a large number of “ReOpen” websites across America are connected to just one person, Aaron Dorr, a political fundraiser and gun rights activist from Iowa with long experience using hot button issues to raise cash for his cronies and clients.

Beware of false prophets, the Gospel of Matthew says, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

You will know them by their fruits.

About Jim Coppoc
Jim Coppoc is a seminarian at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and the award-winning author of three books and two chapbooks of poetry; four good plays; a forgettable textbook; and a host of articles, essays, short prose, etc. He was among the founding faculty of the low-residency MFA program at Chatham University, and he taught writing, literature and American Indian Studies for many years at Iowa State University. Jim has collaborated with groups from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Iowa and Wyoming Arts Councils to prisons, preschools, churches, bars and everything between. He currently lives in Ames, Iowa with two amazing sons and the best dog ever, and he is hard at work on a novel about angels, demons, boarding school, and what it means to be blood. You can read more about the author here.

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