“The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests”


An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Groups in the loose coalition have tapped their networks to drive up turnout at recent rallies in state capitals, dispatched their lawyers to file lawsuits, and paid for polling and research to undercut the arguments behind restrictions that have closed businesses and limited the movement of most Americans.

Among those fighting the orders are populist groups that played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago, such as FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots. Also involved are a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials, a network of state-based conservative policy groups, and an ad hoc coalition of conservative leaders known as Save Our Country that has advised the White House on strategies for a tiered reopening of the economy.

The initiatives, powered by a mix of grass-roots activism and well-funded groups with ties to the White House, are emerging as President Trump is pushing governors to open their states, with one eye on his own re-election prospects….

Most of FreedomWorks’s 40 employees are working remotely on the effort, helping to connect local protesters and set up websites for them. The group is considering paid digital advertising to further increase turnout, and has been conducting weekly tracking polls in swing suburban districts that it says show support for reopening parts of country. It is sharing the data with advisers on the president’s economic task force and other conservative allies on Capitol Hill….

Support for the protests features more direct ties to the White House than simply support for Mr. Trump. The administration recently formed an advisory group for reopening the economy that included Stephen Moore, the conservative economics commentator. Mr. Moore had been coordinating with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the American Legislative Exchange Council in a coalition called “Save Our Country,” which was formed to push for a quicker easing of restrictions.

At the same time, Mr. Moore was communicating with a group of local activists in Wisconsin involved in organizing a protest at the State Capitol set for Friday. On a conservative YouTube program that went online the day Mr. Trump named him to the task force, Mr. Moore said he had “one big donor in Wisconsin” who had pledged financial support for the protesters, telling him, “‘Steve, I promise, I will pay the bail and legal fees of anyone who gets arrested.’”

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Moore declined to identify the donor, but said, “I do think you’re going to see these start to erupt.”

He said he would probably turn down an invitation to speak at the protest in Wisconsin, because “it’s important that no one be under the impression that it’s sponsored or directed by national groups in Washington.”

A legal offensive against the restrictions is also being waged by groups and individuals supportive of Mr. Trump.

Officials from groups including FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots and the anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List sent a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday urging the Justice Department to consider intervening to block state and local coronavirus restrictions that the officials said were unconstitutional infringements on civil liberties. Mr. Barr suggested on Tuesday he was concerned about the constitutional implications.


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