More than 100 demonstrators gathered in Huntington Beach Friday, defying social distancing guidelines, to protest California’s stay-at-home order.
The rally comes a day after the city announced that it was closing off all metered parking along the Pacific Coast Highway to limit beach visitations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protestors — most of whom were not wearing masks — could be heard chanting, “No foreign vaccinations” in the downtown beach area at Main Street and Walnut Avenue.
“We’re here in defiance of Gavin Newsom and his socialist agenda to ruin our economy,” said a man hosting a livestream of the event on Facebook. “We’re definitely not practicing social distancing, which is all right in my book. Believe in Jesus — you won’t fear death.”
Demonstrators could be seen holding up signs that read, “Liberate Huntington Beach,” “Open Cali Now,” “Let us work,” “Pandemics does not cancel our constitutional rights!!” and “COVID-19 is a lie.”
Many signs endorsing President Donald Trump were also visible, along with American flags.
American flag in hand, Becky Walker Fagernes attended the protest because she believes her rights are being taken away.
“They’re holding us hostage for no reason. The virus is not true. I mean, it’s true, but it’s not like a pandemic,” she said. “We think it’s New World Order trying to take over.”
Fagernes added that she believes she had the virus back in November “like 90% of Californians.”
“I’m not gonna wear a mask. I’m not gonna be a sheep,” she said. “It’s just like you having a chip. If you don’t wear a mask you don’t get to do things.”
Toting a “Live Free or Die” sign, 62-year-old Paula Doyle, a Costa Mesa resident, told the Los Angeles Times that she was “sick” of social distancing.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for us to be on lockdown now,” she said. “We didn’t have any dangers; we have no danger in our hospitals now of overflowing.”
Chief Robert Handy of the Huntington Beach Police Department said he’s disappointed with the gathering and officers find themselves caught in between expression of free speech and maintaining public safety.
“We as police officers signed up for this and there are times when we are exposed to risks,” he said.
The Huntington Beach pier, beach parking lots and grass areas were also recently closed to limit people from gathering. While most Southern California beaches were shut down due to the ongoing pandemic, Huntington Beach had kept its coastline open.
Protests against stay-at-home guidelines have popped up across the country in recent days, including in Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah. In Michigan’s capital, Lansing, protestors blocked traffic and honked horns on Wednesday, drawing national media coverage. “Security without liberty is called prison,” read a giant banner hung in front of the Capitol building.
Similar protests are slated for Los Angeles, Riverside and San Clemente in coming days.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter Friday, urging residents to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — states led by Democratic governors. He demanded the lifting of stay-at-home orders and apparently endorsed the growing number of protests against restrictions aimed at stopping COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.