John L. Smith On Rallies To Reopen The Economy


(AP Photo/John Locher)

People participate in a protest against the closing of businesses and stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Protests calling to reopen the economy in Nevada, and across the country, have grown more animated as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.

The trade-off, of course, is if states reopen – will the rates of deaths increase?

In Nevada, a protest in Carson City featured an increasingly familiar sight – heavily armed men dressed in militia garb. What exactly is the connection between guys toting AR-15s, their chests adorned with several magazines of ammo, and opening businesses?

Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith, who attended a Friday protest in downtown Las Vegas, said he's not sure what the connection is but he understands the message protesters are making.

“It’s obviously a show of force. It’s an intimidating factor," he said, "People have a 2nd Amendment right. They can carry their firearms openly. They clearly can do that, but when you add that to a protest, you’ve added an intimidation factor to that protest that I know law enforcement sure notices.”

He said it reminds him of the protest and rally by the Bundys in 2014. When members of the militia showed up, Smith noted, a level of intimidation and tension that wasn't there before arrived. 

And while some protesters have claimed to be apolitical, Smith notes that there is an undercurrent of supporters of President Donald Trump. There is also a message of control and who has it during these rallies.

Support comes from

“Clearly, some people have it in their head that this is somehow a move to take away liberties rather than a response to a deadly virus that has already killed more people than two decades of the Vietnam War," Smith said.

And somehow, wearing a mask in public has become a political statement. Smith said at the rally he attended the only person wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing was him.

“There seems to be something that has become political about this when it really should just be medical and scientific,” he said.

In addition, Smith pointed out that a lot of the money behind some protests and organizing efforts for the protests have come from pro-gun lobbyists.

“This is going to wind up feeling like Astroturf. By that I mean, of course, not exactly organic,” he said.

He believes there is a level of responsibility by groups and individuals pushing the reopen immediately agenda that needs to be assumed before something very bad happens.

One of the main reasons for the lockdown is to stop the spread of the virus and keep the state's health care systems from being overwhelmed; however, Smith believes that is getting lost.

“It’s one of those issues that is a very important issue but it gets lost in the noise of the people talking about reopening the economy and throwing the doors open and not rolling it out more slowly with more thought,” he said.

Rolling out reopening at a slow pace is recommended by public health experts. 

Smith said the other side of the coin when talking about reopening is all the people who truly are living paycheck to paycheck.

“For people hurting, they really are hurting. They really do want to speak up. Their story is important too," he said, “To me, this is personal, they’re best addressed through improving the system to get the help to those people as fast as you can.”

He said it is time for leaders to think outside the box and rework systems designed to help people in need because this emergency could go for a long time.

When restaurants, bars, hair salons and gyms reopen, he questions whether people will actually flock to them.

“When you’re home and things are a little quieter, you are kind of reminded of what you need," he said, "You don’t need as much as you thought you did and you don’t need to be out. Whether that will change, I tend to think that will change slowly. I don’t think… people are all that revved up to jump back to the Applebee’s – elbow to elbow with their neighbor.”  


John L. Smith, contributor

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