Trump tweets to 'liberate' some states, as Virginia joins growing list with protests to stay-at-home orders

President Trump tweeted to "LIBERATE" three of the states with protests.

April 17, 2020, 1:31 PM

A handful of Virginians joined a growing chorus of residents in the United States protesting their states' lockdown orders under the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A few dozen protesters gathered at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on Thursday afternoon, with photos showing one woman holding a sign reading, "End the shutdown" and another reading "We will not comply."

While that demonstration was small in size, it is part of a larger movement in the country -- one that has seemingly evoked a strong response from President Donald Trump.

On Friday morning, Trump called to "liberate" three states -- Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan -- that experienced protests. However, less than 24 hours earlier, Trump had said governors would be "empowered" to come up with their own plan for reopening.

The Virginia protest was organized by ReOpen Virginia, End The Lockdown VA and Virginians Against Excessive Quarantine, all of which have pushed back on the government's decision to close nonessential businesses.

“Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine. However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny,” Reopen Virginia said in a statement to ABC Richmond affiliate WRIC.

Demonstrators stand outside of the Virginia State Capitol, April 16, 2020, in Richmond, Va., to protest continuing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's stay at home order during the coronavirus pandemic.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

In Michigan, hundreds of residents gathered in the city of Lansing on Wednesday to protest their stay-at-home orders and call on officials to reopen businesses. In Kentucky, protesters have interrupted Gov. Andy Beshear's daily briefings on COVID-19. In Minnesota, protestors took to Gov. Tim Walz's home to condemn the orders.

Demonstrations also took place in Utah, North Carolina and Ohio this week, and more are planned for the coming days, including in Oregon, Idaho and Texas, according to Reuters.

Trump has responded to the protests, saying that "it's been a tough process for people."

"You know, I told you, there’s death and there’s problems and staying at home too. It's not just, isn’t it wonderful to stay at home," Trump told ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl on Thursday.

Some sort of lockdown has been adopted in most U.S. states as the virus continues to spread at a rapid pace. Most governors adopted such measures to curb the spread and fatalities.

There are at least 672,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Experts have warned that number could be much higher because of sparse testing early on in the pandemic. At least 33,000 people have died in the country, according to the data.

The protest in Michigan appears to have been the largest the country has so far seen. It also seemed to strike a partisan tone. The Michigan Conservative Coalition organized the protest, in addition to other groups, and some of the protesters wore red "Make America Great Again" hats and T-shirts that supported Trump.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on "Good Morning America" that shutting the state down was not an easy decision, but it was necessary.

"My job is to protect the people of Michigan, and that's precisely what I'm doing with each of these orders. They weigh heavily on me," Whitmer said.

PHOTO: People protest against the coronavirus quarantine orders at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., April 15, 2020.
People protest against the coronavirus quarantine orders at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., April 15, 2020. The protest was organized by Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine several days after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended her order through April 30 and took the requirements of staying home a step further, banning crossing the street to visit with neighbors or driving to see friends, among other things mandatory closure to curtail Covid-19.
Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

"There's a price that's paid and I know that there are a lot of businesses and people that are hurting right now, but the fact of the matter is it's better to be six feet apart than six feet under and that is the whole point of this," she continued. "We've got to save lives. Every life matters."

The decision to reopen states, for the most part, is now up to the governors.

"Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states. Every state is very different," Trump said in a White House briefing. "They’re all beautiful, we love them all, but they’re very, very different."

By Friday morning, Trump appeared to strike a different tone in three separate tweets: "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" the president tweeted.

This report was featured in the Monday, April 20, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

What to know about Coronavirus:

ABC News' Bill Hutchinson, Ben Gittleson and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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