- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A network of activists led by a handyman from Illinois is organizing simultaneous demonstrations in all 50 state capitals on May 1 to argue for ending governors’ stay-at-home orders and allowing people to go back to work.

Josh Ellis of Naperville, Illinois, who owns a business repairing water and mold damage, said America’s foundation is being weakened by government overreach during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re responsible for protecting our health,” Mr. Ellis told The Washington Times. “We believe in the severity of the disease, but at the same time, we don’t feel it’s government’s right to violate our constitutional rights.”

An Army veteran, Mr. Ellis is organizing marches on every state capital through an online network calling itself “American Revolution 2.0.” The group is signing up members on Facebook, with each state having its own page titled, for example, “AR2 Texas.”

The Texas chapter is led by Gabe Tufts, a former professional wrestler whose stage name was Tyler Reks.

“If you are ready and willing to take a stand against the police state that’s taking away your constitutional rights, join your state group,” Mr. Tufts said in a post. His Facebook page is filled with posts disputing the accuracy of the government’s and academia’s projections of coronavirus infection rates.

Mr. Ellis said some other participants include Tom Leland Taylor, president of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, tea party, and Carl Boyanton of Mississippi, a retired businessman who lost a Republican primary bid last month for a House seat.

Mr. Taylor filed a federal lawsuit last month asserting that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home order violates his civil rights.

“The closures of churches, restaurants, bars, social gathering locations and ‘non-essential’ businesses … has deprived me of my right to worship as I see fit, assembly and other rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

A representative for the governor called the legal action a “frivolous lawsuit based on extremely dangerous misinformation that, if widely disseminated, will do nothing but worsen this crisis in our state.”

Mr. Taylor did not return a message seeking comment.

Other protests unaffiliated with the AR2 network have been taking place at state capitals from Pennsylvania to California. Some of the anti-lockdown demonstrations have been organized or coordinated by Republican officials and people with ties to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature filed for an injunction on Tuesday against the lockdown ordered by the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The state’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to last until May 26.

Mr. Ellis said participants in the AR2 network tend to be conservatives and supporters of Mr. Trump, but not exclusively.

“We’re actually inviting moderates and people on the left, we’re not trying to exclude them,” he said. “This isn’t about Trump. One of the things I’ve said is, ‘Don’t wear your MAGA hat.’ This isn’t about Trump. This is about the United States. It’s about rebalancing the power between the federal, the state and ‘We the People.’”

He became an organizer after posting criticisms online of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and closure of restaurants.

“I started mentioning in Facebook chats about doing a march on the Capitol, you know, of course wearing masks and doing 6-foot distancing, just to protest the ‘shelter-in’ order,” Mr. Ellis said. “About two weeks ago, I put up a meme saying that we’re doing the march on all capitals in the U.S. as of May 1. All of a sudden I got a bunch of people saying ‘No, we shouldn’t wait that long.’”

The marchers are likely to encounter roadblocks in California, where state Highway Patrol announced Wednesday it is temporarily banning rallies at the state Capitol and other state facilities due to the pandemic.

The group is urging participants to wear masks, a suggestion that drew loud boos at an “open up” rally this week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. AR2 said in a Facebook post that wearing masks will “provide anonymity for our members” while preventing the media from accusing the group of spreading disease.

Mr. Ellis said despite the risks of the disease, he wants to make sure that government officials understand that shutting down businesses and preventing the freedom of assembly “is never an acceptable solution.”

Asked if government has no role in a pandemic, he said government should provide people with accurate information to enable them to protect themselves from the disease.

“They have the responsibility of education, and that’s it,” Mr. Ellis said. “There’s no education going on, which is the role of both the mainstream media and government — to help educate people so that they can take care of their health properly. Not to mandate how they do it. That’s part of the economic problem.”

He said conflicting information from Washington and from governors about wearing masks, for example, has meant “you end up with the two extremes.”

“You end up with the people who are afraid to death for their life and are willing to shoot somebody if they come near them,” he said. “And then you have the other side who ends up being complete deniers. We’re not either.”

Mr. Ellis said he’s expecting thousands to show up across the country May 1.

“We want these marches to be a peaceful protest, while also making sure our message that we will not tolerate these unconstitutional laws and mandates is loudly heard,” he said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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