After investigating the sources of advertisements and other efforts to protest lockdown and social-distancing measures among American states, the Washington Post reports that “Many of the seemingly scattered, spontaneous outbursts of citizen activism reflect deeply interwoven networks of conservative and libertarian nonprofit organizations.”
The Post writes,
A network of right-leaning individuals and groups, aided by nimble online outfits, has helped incubate the fervor erupting in state capitals across the country. The activism is often organic and the frustration deeply felt, but it is also being amplified, and in some cases coordinated, by longtime conservative activists, whose robust operations were initially set up with help from Republican megadonors.
For example, some Facebook advertisements are funded by a group known as the Convention of States, a project launched in 2015 by the donations of Robert Mercer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who Vox describes as the creator of Cambridge Analytica and a patron of the Breitbart News Network.
The Convention of States’ purpose is to curtail federal power. Now, it is utilizing its digital resources and national network to organize demonstrations throughout the country.
Citizens for Self-Governance is the parent organization of the Convention. Eric O’Keefe, the board president, describes their work as “providing a digital platform for people to plan and communicate about what they’re doing.”
Mark Meckler, president of the Convention of States, similarly said that his goal was to create a “clearinghouse where these guys can all find each other” and to provide “some easy centralizing point to list events, to allow people to communicate with each other.”
O’Keefe has criticized the national spread of stay-at-home orders. He said, “To shut down our rural counties because of what’s going on in New York City, or in some sense Milwaukee, is draconian.”
The Post suggests that President Donald J. Trump’s recent tweets and comments may be catalyzing protest action. After saying in a tweet that people should “liberate” states, tens of thousands of people joined Facebook groups calling for protests in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Nevertheless, the Post reports that while these efforts do in part reflect real, local feelings on the COVID-19 crisis, the interconnectedness of those who promote the activism from behind the scenes is not to be understated.
In Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has vocally opposed local lockdown measures. In 2011, the Convention of States donated approximately $100,000 to the Foundation.
The Conventions of States itself has received funding from DonorsTrust, a financial conduit that does not disclose its donors. DonorsTrust has also provided financial support to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which encourages protests against Governor Brad Little’s (R-ID) stay-at-home orders through advertisements that call to “Disobey Idaho.”
In 2014, the year before it launched the Convention of States project, Citizens for Self-Governance received $500,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation. Meckler has said the donation helped jump-start the project.
Robert J. Bruelle, a Drexel University sociologist who typically researches climate-related lobbying, said to the Post the he felt that “These are extreme right-wing efforts to delegitimize government.”
The Post writes that the national spread of the protests may make the push against stay-at-home orders seem more popular than it really is. Polling by Quinnipiac University indicates that when asked, “Do you support or oppose a stay at home order on a national level?” 81% of respondents answered, “support,” and the majority was sustained across Republican, Democrat, and Independent demographics.
When asked, “Do you think President Trump has acted too aggressively in response to the coronavirus, not aggressively enough, or has his response been about right?” about 55% of respondents answered “not enough.”