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Protesters gathered for a rally against the extension of Michigan's strict anti-coronavirus measures Thursday morning even after Facebook deleted two separate event postings for the rally, with demonstrators railing against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's actions to fight the coronavirus as state lawmakers weighed whether to extend an emergency declaration.
MLive.com reported that a Facebook spokesperson said the two event postings were removed because the rally they promoted went against the state's health guidance by not urging rallygoers to stay in their cars or wear masks, as some other such protests have.
A third posting, which is titled "APR," apparently an acronym for "American Patriot Rally," which is what the first two event pages were named, railed against Whitmer's executive actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In this photo, provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state in Lansing, Mich., Monday, April 20, 2020. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool)
"Rally in Lansing this Thursday 9 AM -We the People," its description reads. "Calling all patriots who feel the governor’s executive order is excessive and overreaching. This is THE big event!"
It continues: "America’s Sherrif [former Milwaukee County, Wis., Sheriff] David Clark will be delivering a speech, along with several small business owners and individuals who have been hurt by this excessive quarantine, lost their business, or are unable to get 'nonessential' surgeries."
The rally was slated to last until the early afternoon.
In the lead-up to the rally, demonstrators toted signs reading "FREE MI," "Lay off Whitmer with no pay" and "I miss my friends," along with American flags, Gadsden flags and other paraphernalia as upbeat, patriotic orchestra music played in the background.
Organizer Jason Howland posted a handful of other pictures from the rally on his Facebook page, saying "[i]t's ramping up to be an AWESOME DAY!"
"I don't believe that the coronavirus crisis is the way they say it is. I believe it's being used to push an agenda … We can be safe out there and take care of ourselves without having to be sitting at home in our houses." one protester told WXYZ in a live Facebook video ahead of the event.
Another protester told the outlet he attended the rally "to protest dictator Governor Whitmer's stay-at-home order … devaluing citizens by labeling their jobs nonessential."
But Whitmer has warned against lifting the restrictive measures she has imposed too soon.
"Data shows that most Michiganders are doing their part by staying home and staying safe. That’s good, but we must keep it up. Social distancing is our best weapon to defeat this enemy," she said last week as she extended a slightly less strict stay-at-home order into May. "With new COVID-19 cases leveling off, however, we are lifting some of the restrictions put in place in the previous order. I want to be crystal clear: the overarching message today is still the same. We must all do our part by staying home and staying safe as much as possible."
The Michigan protest is just the latest against the state's stay-at-home order, which has included a rowdy gathering of demonstrators in their cars dubbed "Operation Gridlock" and protests outside of Whitmer's home. There have also been a number of protests around the country against other states' stay-at-home orders, including in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, some protesters in Michigan even made their way to the state House gallery before they were forcibly removed.
Last week, the governor expanded her stay-at-home order to May 15 but loosened some of the restrictions beginning May 1. Residents will be allowed to travel between residences, but it will be “strongly discouraged.”
According to MLive.com, Whitmer claims broad authority to take measures to combat the pandemic with or without approval from the state legislature. But Republican lawmakers are holding up an extension of Michigan's state of emergency declaration, which is set to expire Thursday. If the order is not extended, legislators have said they would be able to pass bills to codify some of the measures that Whitmer has implemented via executive order.
The governor, on the other hand, says she has "multiple, distinct, independent authorities of constitutional and statutory power," to continue the state's shutdown even if lawmakers do not cooperate, according to MLive.com.
Fox News' Morgan Phillips and Dom Calicchio contributed to this report.