SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) -- Hundreds of people gathered in Springfield to rally against Gov. JB Pritzker's extended stay-at-home order Friday afternoon. Protesters of all ages joined the chorus to reopen Illinois. The Illinois Secretary of State's Office says there were about 500 people participating, although organizers hoped to see close to 1,000. Most of the people outside the Capitol participated without face coverings and few were concerned about social distancing.
"If you want the state to open up, let me hear you say hoorah! Hoorah!"
Many protesters feel the extended stay-at-home order is infringing on their rights as Americans. While organizers stressed this wasn't a political event, many people held flags or posters supporting President Donald Trump or bashing Pritzker. Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) was also welcomed as a hero for his court battle against the governor.
"The question of the day is are you ready to restore Illinois and ready to regain our freedom. Free us," Bailey said. Many supporters are calling the Eastern Bloc lawmaker "Gov. Bailey," as he continues his court battle with the real governor over abuse of executive powers. Bailey says the case will move forward swiftly, and "justice will be served."
"JB Pritzker will be found unconstitutional. He will be found to be a failed leader, a failed governor of this state," exclaimed Bailey. Later, other Republican lawmakers joined the calls to reopen the state and demand transparency from the Pritzker administration. "Accountability, transparency and the truth - we're not getting that from our government," said Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City).
Throughout the day, several protesters displayed signs of hatred and racist messages toward Gov. Pritzker. For example, Jackie Fletcher drove over two hours from Morris to participate in the protest. Fletcher proudly displayed a sign "Heil, Pritzker" with a swastika. The Pritzker family is Jewish and started their life in Chicago after fleeing pogroms in Kyiv. However, the protester had "Re-Open Illinois" on the other side of her sign, as "some people get touchy about swastikas."
"I'm here to protest the loss of our rights," Fletcher said. "We're protesting for our First Amendment and other things. Our speech isn't really being prohibited, but our freedom is. We're unable to leave the house and have to wear a mask."
The American Jewish Committee in Chicago saw the woman's sign on Twitter and sent the Capitol Bureau this statement in response: "At least two signs at an anti-shutdown protest at the State Capitol in Springfield today compared Pritzker to Hitler. Regardless of one’s politics, comparisons between our state's efforts to save lives and the slaughter of millions are offensive, irresponsible and downright dangerous," said Executive Director Laurence Bolotin.
Another Trump supporter held a sign stating "7,700+ People Died Everyday Before This Wuhanvirus." The Midwest region Anti-Defamation League tweeted, "Deeply concerned by some of the posters at today's rallies in Springfield and Chicago. The scapegoating and racist attacks on Asian Americans and the offensive use of a swastika and Nazi references have no place in Illinois or America."
During the rally, a pastor from The Grove Fellowship took the microphone and told the crowd, "We live in the land of Lincoln, but we stand here today as slaves." Brian Phillips went on to say Illinoisans are tired of sitting at home and, "We're tired of paying for Gov. Pritzker's mistakes."
"Greatest hoax in the history of the world"
The majority of people participating say they don't care about the state's growing number of cases and deaths. On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 3,137 new COVID-19 cases and 105 deaths since Thursday. Illinois has 56,055 cases and 2,457 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic started.
"The people here have taken time to look at the numbers and educate themselves and feel safe enough to go out and do something like this," said protester Elton Wood. No matter what experts say..."It's, it's, it's the greatest hoax in the history of the world," said Theresa Johanson. "Not that it's not killing people. Yes, but I think it has an end goal that's not something any of us want."
The Capitol Bureau asked several people if they were concerned about getting COVID-19 by joining the large crowd. Most said they didn't care. Pritzker addressed the protests during his afternoon briefing in Chicago. "There are a few hundred protesters today, both here and in Springfield, and they're exercising the right to free speech and we ought to defend to the death their right to exercise that right, even when they're wrong," Pritzker said. The governor said Illinoisans staying home to keep others safe should be recognized since, "they're the ones who are keeping people from getting sick and dying."