Phil Power | Legislating at gunpoint takes protest too far

Phil Power is founder and chairman of The Center for Michigan.

Events sometimes crystalize into focus arguments that otherwise are often abstract and sterile.

Case in point: The “American Patriot Rally” that took place at the state Capitol last week.  Hundreds gathered to protest Gov. Gretchen Witmer’s emergency stay-at-home rules promulgated in the face of the COVID-19 virus.  Some demonstrators carried long guns, including what looked like assault-style weapons.  They were identified by organizers as “militia members” acting as “security detail” for the protesters.  Some entered the public gallery overlooking the Senate chamber, where they heckled lawmakers.  Many protested “tyranny” by the governor.  

It’s helpful to remember that such demonstrations happen more or less annually in Lansing.  Michigan is one of few states where there are no metal detectors at the entrance to the state Capitol building, no weapons checks and no specific policy prohibiting loaded weapons inside the buildings, although (oddly)  longtime rules prohibit carrying banners and signs into the building.   Michigan is Constitutionally an “open carry” state that permits citizens to carry weapons, openly or concealed, inside the Capitol.

I remember the melee against “Right to Work” laws in 2012, when thousands of demonstrators crowded the Capitol grounds, blocking traffic and tried to barge their way into legislative chambers.  Many demonstrators were very angry, and some violence broke out.

It’s different this time around.  One reporter said she was “slammed in the head” by a gun butt while trying to cover the story.  Some lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, said armed demonstrators shouted at them as they debated on the floor below whether to authorize a lawsuit against Gov. Whitmer’s claim to emergency authority.  Others said they felt intimidated by armed protesters inside the legislative chamber while members were trying to transact public business. 

The image of armed men overseeing a legislature trying to carry out the public’s business strikes me at minimum, unseemly. 

I’d feel intimidated, too, if I were trying to exercise the public’s business under the oversight of armed protestors, which reminds me of the way politics work in banana republics.  

Last Thursday, Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) wore a bulletproof vest at her desk.  “It makes the work environment very, just temperamental when you’re trying to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” she told Bridge reporter Jonathan Oosting.

Other lawmakers wondered with Sen. Santana whether “we do need to reconsider how we support open carry in the Capitol” in light of the disruption in the galleries.

Rep. Matt Maddock (R-White Lake) told The Detroit News he agreed with the protesters’ rights.  “People are tired, angry, broke and protesting.”  He said he didn’t find the protesters to be intimidating.  “I like being around people with guns.”  

Others pointed out that the presence of armed protesters carrying arms at the Capitol dates to the 1930s, according to John Truscott, who sits on the Capitol Commission that sets rules for the building. He said, armed protesters inside the Capitol have “started conservations about what can be done or if anything can on our end.  We have always tried to keep the building as accessible as possible but safety measures are the most important.”

Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told Bridge reporter Oosting he supported safe and responsible protests but condemned those who “used intimidation and the threat of physical harm to stir up fear and feed rancor.  Their actions hurt their cause and steal from the rights of others by creating an environment where responsible citizens do not feel safe enough to express themselves.”

Sen. Jeremy Moss from Oakland County said, “You can’t carry a gun into a courthouse, and yet we are literally operating with people hovering over us with their weapons”.

Over the weekend, the event and its news coverage drew nearly 200 vitriolic (on both sides) reader comments to the Bridge website.  Tom Lambert, legislative director of Michigan Open Carry Inc. has lobbied against limits on guns in the state Capitol opposes changing the rules, even if some lawmakers felt threatened.  “If that’s the standard we use for things, where does that stop?  Do we limit constitutionally protected assembly based on a subjective fear, especially one where no one has ever been harmed?” 

Although I’m normally on the side of peaceful protests, there is something deeply disturbing at the sight of armed protesters overseeing lawmakers trying to accomplish public business inside a legislative chamber.  

Philosophers teach there is no right — as in free speech— without a corresponding duty that limits and thereby validates  that right – as in the prohibition against crying “fire” in a crowded movie theater. 

Protest is one thing, and it’s precious.  But armed intimidation goes starkly against the grain of the democratic society.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Wed, 05/06/2020 - 9:20am

You communist sympathizer,
Ever heard of 1776? How about the civil war?
Are you ready for the next one?

Mary Sue
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 3:10pm

Phil agrees with King George and thinks that you poor serfs should just shut up, roll over, and be happy that your betters ('elites', 'bureaucrats', 'royals', or whatever you call them) tolerate you living for long enough to scrub their mansions toilets.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:55pm

Are you saying we have taxation without representation?

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:54pm

Why don't we see any paintings of our forefathers signing the declaration of independence or the constitution carrying arms?

David W
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:10am

You insult intelligent thought and the nom de plume you go by. Calling a man a "communist sympathizer" because his opinion differs from yours shows how very intolerant you are. Only you and your ilk use the thinking that carrying a weapon, as an American right, is the proper way to make change. This is a bullying tactic of the first order... if name calling and words cannot carry the day, I will show you my gun.

Richard Starr
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 9:37am

Michigan's legal definition of "brandishing" already answers the question of what is "peaceful". They didn't brandish their weapons. They were peaceful. Anyone who can't emotionally handle citizens exercising their rights, shouldn't presume to run for office and make laws over those citizens.

don't pee in my pool
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:00pm

It's all peaceful until someone gets butt in the head. By the way, the journalist covering the event who was hit along with everyone else had to endure a total disregard of the social distancing orders, making the event extremely dangerous from a contagious point of view. So no it was not "peace". Would you say it were peaceful if someone brought anthrax, a biological pathogen, or something else similar to an extremely dangerous virus? I don't think so.

John Q. Public
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:51am

The journalist, by her own account, was struck accidentally when a person carrying a gun turned and the gun hit her. I've observed people struck accidentally under similar circumstances by all manner of items--briefcases, TV cameras, purses, signs, etc.--but none of them found it necessary to report it to the state police. That entire incident was overblown to further an anti-gun narrative. If she had been hit by any item other than a gun it would not have even warranted a mention.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:07am

Let's hear the details of the "butt in the head" meme, has unmistakable whiff of BS.

Citizen of the ...
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:48am

I think you have already peed in your pool. Why was the reporter not following social distancing guidelines? Really, you are going to compare a flu like virus to anthrax? Have you been drinking the pee in your pool? Yes, it was peaceful. How many shots were fired? That's right. Zero shots were fired.

Nonsense to you
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:14pm

This is a wonderful well-thought out response to a travesty and international embarrassment.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 9:39am

You are just clearing the decks for Antifa to attack prostestors by falsely conflating self defense with intimidation.

You know by how he
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:01pm

You are already defending mobster tactics described by Trump's disgraced personal attorney Michael Cohen who is serving time.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:41pm

Given that Antifa hasn't been blasted on Fox News every other day in the last three months, in genuinely surprised you troglodytes remember that hollow talking point that appeals to know one but gormless civility libs and right wing psycopaths

Kevin Grand
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 9:49am

Mr. Power was obviously going from second and third-hand sources when he wrote this opinion piece.

Speaking as someone who was actually there, here are a few "omissions" that he chose to leave out.

First, the Sergeants-at-arms physically threw three women out of the House Gallery on Wednesday (the day prior to the Rally), for not only having the audacity to sit in an empty gallery, but did so while possessing media credentials as well. Why the media chose not to report on that fact is very telling. See video in link below:

Two, during the time of this "intimidation", the Michigan Senate was in the middle of a series or "breaks" and "caucus calls". The actual session itself was very brief consisting mainly in the late morning and late afternoon. During those multi-hour long "breaks" and "caucus calls" in-between, Senators were sleeping, reading and updating their social media accounts. They were NOT debating on the floor when those images were taken as news reports falsely claimed.

Third, there were Sergeants-at-arms present in the Michigan Senate Gallery all afternoon keeping people in line. Was a firearm ever pointed over the railing? Was a firearm even pointed towards the floor? Did a firearm ever discharge throughout the day? Cite me one example of any of these things happening last week. Since the Sergeants-at-arms have no problem with throwing people out for far less, this would have been immediately acted upon and reported if it actually happened.

Fourth (and this is directed more towards Sen. Shirkey), if the public was so "intimidating and fearful", then why did he go up into the gallery to speak with them directly? Several people were clearly carrying (per the rules). He was up there for about 10 minutes or so, casually learning against the railing at times while speaking to us.

The "armed intimidation" angle of this story is not only very weak, it is bunk. The only reason why so much is being made out of this is because the democrats are sore that they didn't get the extension they wanted to validate the governor's little power trip and it is now going to court.

What is more troubling is the lack of discussion on the legality of the governor's actions?

Where is the talk of the damage it is doing the the health and well-being of Michiganians?

Where is the talk about the disastrous effects on Michigan's economy? To local units of government?

Deflect and divert attention is a standard tactic for democrats with an agenda to promote.

Mr. Power did no less today.

andrew bommarito
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 10:13am

No, what they are sore about is when non-weapon carrying minorities and women came to the capital to protest they were physically locked out of the building and refused entrance. The hypocritical double standard is what makes people sore

Kevin Grand
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:18am

Did that happen during THIS session of the Michigan Legislature, Mr. Bommarito?

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:53pm

What's the difference?

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:44am

Short answer: Each session of the Michigan Legislature is free to set up their own rules on how their meetings are conducted.

middle of the mit
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:41pm

No kAREN gRand,

But it will, just like the last time you snowflakes were in con troll.

Why do conservatives get to be vitriolic but when any one who opposes them uses the same tone, WE are the ones that are deemed incivil?

Liberal press?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

Has anyone taken into account the "news" that conservatives listen to as opposed to the "liberal..yet corporate media?"

Up here Mr Powers, we have 4 news outlets. There are only 2 broadcasters. Each of those broadcasters owns the other 2 stations. I am going to out them because there only 2.

7&4 is affiliated with 29&8. They are a Sinclaire broadcasting network and I stopped listening to them when Boris Epstyn started pulling a Ted Poe and telling us "This is the way it is."

So I switched to the other station. 9&10. They used to be run by Heritage Broadcasting Network. I can't find that at the bottom of their website anywhere. What I get when I want to watch live? SBTV.

Does anyone want to take my bet that is short for Sinclair Broadcasting?

Because what I have seen is the local anchors literally rolling eyes when they talk about wearing masks. And last week I saw a 15 second blurp about how President Trump had intelligence that the Covid came from a lab in Wuhan China. Nothing saying that experts denied that.

WE up here are going to suffer because of lack of knowledge and due diligence.

And republicans?

Hey! They voted for it!

YOU want it? YOU got it!!

But the rest of us are going to be singing this.........

Metallica - The Frayed Ends Of Sanity

I am sorry Mr Powers for being vitriolic on your website. I have seen others who will put these people in their place. But if you allow them on your site to espouse their views unimpeded others who visit this site will think that is the status quo. And while I know your site is as bi partisan as any site that promotes environmental causes as your site is dedicated to, those comments can not be left unattended.

I may not be the best representative, but I will try.

Sometimes with humor, sometimes not.

It all depends on the comment.

All I ever wanted to do was engage in a Non face to face quorum that would allow conversations that you can't have face to face.

I have come to the conclusion WE, on the opposite sides of the aisle aren't even able to do that. So I am left with telling them the things they don't want to allow libs to do and they are left telling us that they are going to prove that voter fraud is real by getting arrested trying to prove voter fraud is real.

And down the rabbit hole we go!!!

Thank You Mr Powers, Bridge and those that make this forum possible.

What do we have to look forward to tomorrow????

Kevin Grand
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 7:49am

Welcome back, sport.

Did you ever locate that post you claimed I allegedly wrote yet?

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:18pm

Hey kAren! How ya doin?

Do you mean this post?

And kAren, I can't imbed this post with your links. But they are there.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/11/2017 - 9:24am

This program is mainly a scam and has been clearly documented as such about four years ago by 60 Minutes and a US Sentate Committee on Govermental Affairs.

As a matter of fact, one of the programs rewarded bureaucrats for signing up as many people as they could as a sign of the program's "effectiveness".

That system might work great when you are spending other people's money with little to no regard for accountability.

But with Tax Day looming in just one week, I doubt that you would find very many people who share that sentiment./////

Could you please continue to tell us how you would now like to kick those people off of the "scam benefits" they are receiving?



Continue to show your true colors to the people who have beaten their bodies down by doing the physical labor for you and then you leave them in the dust!

Show your TRUE COLORS!!!

Let them shine!!

Republican voters who collect those benefits are listening....... And so are the Republican legislators in the North who sometimes helped those people get those benefits...............Or is it OK for them to collect just as long as Liberals don't?

I think I am seeing a pattern in your idea of governance.

The only legitimate Government to you is a conservative Government.

And you don't have to follow the laws that don't come from conservatives?

Anarchy it is!

And to think......these are the people who branded themselves the LAW AND ORDER party. And does the media hold them to it?

Some liberal media, huh?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:58am

Congratulations scooter, you located a post that I wrote...back in 2017!

Try again.

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 7:48pm

Otay dill hole.

Could you remind us of what it is I was looking for?

Because the last time we had an argument it was over that post.......and whether you agreed with the sources that you provided.

Since then, it has been what conservative use for their tactics. Obfuscate, differentiate and then change the subject.

Oh wait!

Those are the same tactics you used to obfuscate, differentiate and change the subject when I told you and Matt that you hate and despise the people up here who end up disabled serving your needs up here. And apparently the Republican legislators and doctors that allow those fake things to happen in the first place.

Bring it!

There is no Trying kAren. Do or do not. There is no try.

I just have to recite your words...... My words?

Be my guest. At least I care.

Diana Menhennick
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:49pm

Kevin Grand, The capitol building was to have been CLOSED to visitors. I support freedom to assemble and protest, but with long guns and the militias? This pandemic is real and there is no place for political ideology in public policy and yet the GOP is suing the governor.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:20am

Ms. Menhennick,

The Michigan Legislature is a separate AND co-equal branch of government. They are free to set their own rules regarding when and how to meet.

The overwhelming majority of us protesting last week did not carry. Those of who chose to exercise their rights last week followed the rules, did so without incident.

And do you know what? The fact that the democrats did the very same thing this week makes absolutely no difference to me.

The reason why the governor is being taken to court (and by more than just the Michigan Republicans), has to do with the fact that even she has limits to her office. She has chosen to ignore them.

Ben W. Washburn
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:12pm

Kevin Grand:
Thanks for your measured insights on the unreported events of that day. I can't much fault the reporters. They focus-in upon the unusual, the dramatic, and the sensational, because that is what appeals to their readers and viewers. No one reads or views stories about grass growing. Not enough of us take the time and effort that you have in this case to set the record straight. But it helps to remind us to take all "news" from whatever source with a grain of salt.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 10:22am

Political pansies all good telling US Citizens what to do, what to think, how to live, and even breathe. Police were there and in Union with Militia. Never can go to far when civil liberties are being stripped away. The high priestess of satan Whitmer, unfortunately not joking, bought and paid for through source of soros is a puppet on the strings of an elite agenda closing for the common cold.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:03pm

Actually voters elected her "highness"? by a landslide. Elections have consequences.

Sat, 05/16/2020 - 9:18am

Yes, you can go to far in protests. Just a few years ago, a woman was murdered via vehicular manslaughter in South Carolina over protests supporting statues that are icons of slavery and racism. That's to far. The guns are unnecessary. They intimidate the other side, and the militias know that. And I'd be surprised if that's not exactly what they like about dressing up like they're going to invade the Capitol. And with crazy people sending death threats to the governor, that makes guns at these rallies even scarier. Does the rule about guns in the Capitol have to change? I'm not saying that. But you can have the right to have guns there and choose not to, because it's not necessary. It signals that you're there to fight to get your way over anything else, not discuss and debate to find a compromise.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:36am

Phil, the protesters were following state law. I wouldn’t have carried myself, but isn’t there an old saying that went along the lines “When the Government fears the people, you have liberty and when the people fear the Government, you have tyranny.” Our Founders were very clear in their intent about the people’s right to overthrow a tyrannical government. We aren’t full blown Socialist yet.

Incidentally, I thought I read an article on Bridge last night regarding Whitmer’s proposed method of tracking COV19 cases along with stores, etc. installing surveillance equipment. I wonder why the article was pulled. It was very informative. I hope it wasn’t self censorship on Bridge’s part.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:04pm

What if the governed fear the vigilantes? Doesn't our country become a Banana Republic like Somalia?

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 2:07pm

You cannot criminalize a Constitutional right. Stop it.

Look it up
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:05pm

No rights are absolute.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 2:49pm

I'd suspect the motivations of those carrying semi-auto rifles were completely fulfilled by lefties and the media (being redundant here) and their collective freak out and cryfest (just as was the knit witted gal it the bulletproof vest) . Without the attention and instead being met with a yawn, they'd soon tire of carrying an awkward piece of iron hanging around their neck. It just isn't that comfortable besides they’d realize they’re really just serving the media's purpose. I believe you're smart enough to realize this.

Robyn A Tonkin
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:16am

Finally, the right attitude. Also, after this latest Charlie Chaplin-esque jackbooted strut fest, some of these folks might look at the nightly news videos and think, "All of a sudden, I realize what an amusing and embarrassing spectacle I made of myself today." We can all hope.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:45pm

FFS, you can count the number of Leftists in mainstream media on the hand of a disabled carpenter. Armed fascists acting on behalf of an astroturfed campaign orchestrated by billionaires is a giant red flag to anyone who has studied history, irrespective of the media it garners, you absolute twit

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 4:40pm

Two old quotes for you:

When people fear the government, there is tyranny. When government fears the people, there is liberty.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote.

What a wimp!
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:09pm

Thank you, lamb! LOL It's just like everyone suspected, the guns are compensation for a lamb knob, like Trump's mushroom chode. At least that's what Stormy says.

Your name/title...
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:04am

Yes, you do seem very much like a wimp. You show an incredible amount of cyber-courage with your name calling.

Vince Caruso
Wed, 05/06/2020 - 5:52pm


Wed, 05/06/2020 - 10:32pm

When protesters have a weak message, attack the message.
When the protestors message is strong, attack the methods the protestors use.
When the methods are legal, attack the individual protestors.

I don't recall anything from the article about the message.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 7:57am

And you never will.

To address why so many people took the time out of their lives and drive across the state to make their opinions known in-person to elected officials who will not listen, calls into question the very narrative they have worked so hard to promote.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:47pm

How about attacking both? Intimidating lawmakers into forcing the poor back to work in a pandemic rather than demanding relief for them looks bad no matter how you spin it, ghoul

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:47pm

How about attacking both? Intimidating lawmakers into forcing the poor back to work in a pandemic rather than demanding relief for them looks bad no matter how you spin it, ghoul

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:24pm

Who is "forcing" anyone back to work?

There are plenty of business ACROSS Michigan who are ready right now to return to work. And there are plenty of people who are ready to return to work as well. Contrary to popular belief, they want to stay working. They know how to work in these times.

No one is "forcing" you, or anyone else for that matter, to work.

But let me leave you with some words of wisdom from a hero of yours, Vladimir Lenin, ""He who does not work shall not eat."

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 8:44am

I cannot believe what I am witnessing! We Accept people with assault weapons to look down on lawmakers and this is OK? We accept that people show up at "peaceful assembly's" with weapons ?

This needs to stop NOW!

How do we stop this?

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 8:57am

These assault rifles/ guns being openly carried have no place in the Capitol building. The only ones I want with guns are Michigan State Police and the Capitol Police and guards of the building. We have too many wacos' to be running around only a matter of time before one over reacts. Civil protests do not need guns. It is that simple and civil.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:11am

"Unseemly" is being polite, Phil. Thuggish behavior in a civil society is repulsive.

I think what bugs me most about these protesters is that they feel like their problems are much more important than mine. I'm suffering, just like they are, but I choose to bide my time and wait for smarter people to figure things out. Forcing the issue by yelling, shoving and brandishing weapons is only antagonistic. There are proper channels to follow to lodge your opinion. Just because you get impatient doesn't give you the right to decide to become violent.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:14am

All it would take is one NUT to start shooting!!!

A Yooper
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:38am

Here come the Dog Patch Police protecting the demonstrators.
Money for smokes and bullets and gas, and accepting the dole out money, aka socialism, from the government.
On a positive note, when they smoke they bring their fingers to their mouths hundreds of times daily, and propel there virus laden smoke to the faces of their fellow Dog Patchers.
Please continue this so so there will be less virus spreading ignoramus's on the planet.
Culling the Dog Patch Pack is a good thing.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:35am

Thank you for your words of reason. I own guns. No one infringes on my rights when I can't carry into schools, courthouses, airports, etc. Also, protesters consisted of many out-of-state groups/individuals who do not represent Michigan.

Paul Jordan
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:48am

Let's just imagine, for a moment, that angry black men carrying military-style weapons were crowding the state senate's gallery, and screaming in the face of police (or, maybe, you).

Honestly, how comfortable would you feel? Not a week goes by that gun in the hand of a black man amounts to "probable cause", but at the same time so many of you think that a gun in a white hand is just exercising a 'right'!

The fact is, to secure their support slave states demanded that the 2nd Amendment be included in the Constitution to ensure that their slave patrols could continue without federal interference to impose their reign of terror on African Americans. Although I'm sure you don't want to recognize this, many of you continue to cling to your guns as protection against the dark menace of your imaginings, just as the slave masters and Klan did.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:44pm

Mr. Powers is spot on. I have no problem with demonstrations though the people who did not distance and shunned masks were on the foolish side. But...why in the world, for a peaceful demonstration, did men have to carry their weapons? Realistically, they carried the weapons to intimidate the Legislature and anyone else. The men pictured with their guns were not protesting, they were armed to intimidate. Why else the guns and flak jackets?

Mike Williams
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 2:25pm

Michigan has become a haven for white supremists thanks to the Republicans reckless gun policies. While Republicans wave the confederate flag and encourage the intimidation by the gun toting zombies, the state police stand by doing nothing with their confederate flags folded up in their back pockets. How shameful !