Coronavirus: Trump doubles down on call for supporters to ‘liberate’ Democratic states in lockdown

Donald Trump has doubled down on his tweets calling for supporters to “liberate” three Democrat-led states under lockdown measures intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.

During a wild and at times incoherent press conference performance on Friday, the US president spouted a series of mistruths and false claims, including his justification for those tweets, which were branded by critics as a dangerous attempt at stirring rebellion.

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Mr Trump tweeted on Friday, followed immediately by: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

Three minutes later, the president tweeted: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

They came despite the advice of public health experts that stay-at-home orders and social distancing are necessary to slow the spread of the virus, which has already killed more than 36,000 in the US.

The extraordinary tweets followed a segment on Fox News, Mr Trump’s favoured news broadcaster, showing a protest against the lockdown outside the Minnesota governor’s office.

Earlier this week, conservative protesters, many wearing pro-Trump gear, also stormed the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, to demand leaders there open that state from a “stay-at-home” order.

Many of the protests were fueled by anti-vaccination and anti-government groups, according to NBC News.

Asked at Friday’s White House press conference about his apparent change of heart – on Thursday he had urged supporters to listen to their governors – Mr Trump said: “I think some things are too tough, and if you look at some of the states you just mentioned, it’s too tough.

“Not only relative to this, but what they’ve done in Virginia with respect to the Second Amendment is just a horrible thing. They did a horrible thing, the governor.”

Mr Trump later escalated his attack on Virginia Democrats, suggesting falsely they were planning to strip Virginians of their second amendment rights entirely. In fact, governor Ralph Northam’s bill, which has been delayed for a year, would only ban the sale of guns defined as “assault firearms”.

“What they have done to some people is very unfair. In Virginia, I’m going above and beyond what we are talking about with this horrible plague. They want to take their guns away. They want to take their guns away. That’s the second amendment. That’s Virginia,” Mr Trump said.

“You have a governor — who really I guess he should be under siege. He seems not to be. If he were a Republican, he would be under siege, but he seems to have escaped something that was pretty bad.”

Mr Trump later said he was unconcerned about the potential for coronavirus transmission among the protesters, despite health experts warning of the need for continued social distancing.

Mr Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses reopen quickly and claimed earlier this week that he had total authority over the matter, even though the lockdowns and other social distancing measures have been imposed by state and local leaders, not Washington.

“We may be opening but we’re putting safety first,” Mr Trump said.

On Thursday, he outlined a three-step set of guidelines for easing restrictions over a span of several weeks in places that have robust testing and are seeing a decrease in Covid-19 cases, assuring the nation’s governors: “You’re going to call your own shots.”

But governors of both parties suggested on Friday they would be cautious in returning to normal, with some warning that they cannot do it without help from Washington to expand testing.

“The federal government cannot wipe its hands of this and say, ‘Oh, the states are responsible for testing,’” said New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. “We cannot do it without federal help.”

West Virginia governor Jim Justice, a Republican ally of Mr Trump’s, said he would listen to medical experts in deciding how to move forward.

“I am not going to do something that I feel in my heart is the wrong thing that’s going to endanger our people,” he said.

Washington governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said Mr Trump’s tweets about “liberating” states put millions of Americans at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly,” Mr Inslee said.

Mr Northam said he and his staff are focused on fighting a “biological war”.

“I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars,” said Mr Northam, a medical doctor.

Also in Friday’s press conference, which stretched to almost two hours, Mr Trump admitted he was hoping to restart his campaign rallies before November, said China “has to have” the most coronavirus deaths in the world, and repeatedly attempted to blame the Obama administration for his government’s slow response to the pandemic.

On Friday afternoon there were just under 700,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and the death toll was approaching 37,000 people.

Additional reporting by AP

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