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Fight erupts at Michigan Capitol protest over noose; police take ax

Lansing – Under a stormy sky, the crowd came looking for a fight. The demonstrators, including an armed Pikachu, brought their battle against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the state Capitol.

The combatants even briefly turned on each other as two protesters fought over a doll that dangled from an American flag with a noose around its neck.

The rambunctious crowd had descended on the Capitol lawn Thursday to rail against Whitmer’s stay-home order related to the coronavirus.

About 300 people attended the rally, which was smaller than an April 30 demonstration, when 700 to 1,000 people, some armed, demonstrated outside and inside the Capitol. The building was closed Thursday.

Some of the combatants Thursday were combat-ready, bringing weapons to the rally.

"All this lockdown is teaching us is that liberty can spread just as much as fear," said Chris Ladyman of Rockford, who was carrying a firearm.

A heavy rain didn’t dissuade the dissenters. Neither did thunder and lightning. After two hours of speeches, they continued to mill about on the Capitol lawn for another two hours.

A few protesters wore masks but most didn’t. Most demonstrators huddled together, ignoring public advice about staying six feet apart.

Among the signs the demonstrators held were one that showed Whitmer with an Adolf Hitler mustache.

“Tyranny has a face,” it read.

Protesters express themselves during a protest at the state Capitol to oppose the executive orders Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, May 14, 2020.

“People need to work," said Jeff Harris of Holly, who attended with his two sons. "We need to make money."

The rally was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has participated in several protests since early April.

Several masked counter-protesters stood silently in support of the governor’s executive order.

A brief scuffle occurred when a woman speaking on the Capitol steps objected to a man displaying an American flag that had an unclothed female doll with a noose around the neck.

She snatched the flag away from the 60-year-old man but another protester, Katie Rogowicz, grabbed it back, Rogowicz said. Other protesters jostled with the man.

A dozen State Police troopers — some on foot and others on bikes — formed a protective phalanx as they escorted the man into the Capitol building.

The crowd yelled at the police, saying they paid for the officers’ salaries and that they should arrest Whitmer.

Police later said they confiscated an ax that the man kept in a plastic garbage can he carried with him.

Protesters in Lansing get an early start on Thursday, May 14, 2020, demonstrations by hanging a sign above the Capitol stairs.

Rogowicz said she didn't like the man's display, but the crowd shouldn't have removed it.

“That wasn’t right,” she said. “He has the right to do it.”

Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia were in attendance, among the individuals openly carrying guns on the Capitol lawn during the event.

State officials are debating whether to continue to allow guns in the Capitol building.

"It’s very simple. It’s a right," said Phil Robinson of Barry County, a member of the militia. "Nobody has the ability to take away a right."

Rob Saari, 34, came from Bridgman and was still in the crowd in the afternoon. He said it's been heartbreaking to watch friends lose their businesses during the pandemic.

Saari brought with him two ducks, one named Fro and one named Smoky Diesel.

Christina Jankauskas and her mother, Karen, of Macomb Township, said they want more transparency from the governor and an end to the stay-home order. Karen, 70, participated in the April 30 protest as well. 

"I’m tired of this woman putting us on lockdown," said Christina, 52. "We aren’t prisoners. We are constituents.”

Brian McIntosh, 50, of Warren carried a flag promoting President Donald Trump as he walked toward the Capitol.

“Check your Constitution," McIntosh said of his message to people not understanding the event.

“Every time they take a little, they never give it back," he added about individual rights.

Asked if he was concerned about the virus spreading during the event, he said he wasn't.

"I think if we were in a little more close contact, if we were inside, I might be a little bit more concerned about it," McIntosh said. “But everybody is keeping enough distance."

By 1:30 p.m., four-and-a-half hours after the rally began, several dozen people continued to stand around the water-logged grounds.

That’s when a person dressed in a Pikachu costume showed up. The Pokemon character was clutching a rifle.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Craig Ladyman of Rockford holds his rifle during a protest at the state Capitol to oppose the executive orders Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, May 14, 2020.