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Hundreds of people gathered Monday morning outside the State Capitol in Harrisburg to protest Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“I believe that every one of you is essential and that every one of your businesses and jobs are life sustaining,” Republican state Rep. Russ Diamond, representing the 102nd District in Lebanon County, told the crowd to loud cheers. “I also happen to believe your freedom of speech and your right to peacefully assemble are also life sustaining.”
Diamond was one of several officials who spoke at the gathering, which began around 9 a.m. and concluded by 1 p.m.
During his brief address, shortly after noon on Monday, Diamond said Wolf created “shock and panic for the general public” when he announced a statewide lockdown, and he criticized the governor for “failing to convince and utilize the 253 members of the General Assembly to communicate your plans.” He also derided Wolf’s “one-size-fits-all list of business and industry categories” that decides who can stay open and who cannot during the shutdown.
Diamond further complained that Wolf’s policies pose a “clear and present danger … to our food supply chain,” have sent 1.5 million Pennsylvania workers to the unemployment line, and shut down small businesses “that may specialize in American-made goods, but leaving the big box stores open to sell cheap Chinese garbage.”
Wolf encouraged community gardens, Diamond said, but ordered garden centers closed.
“Governor, this list of frustrations goes go on and on, but I want to stop right here, and appeal to your better angels,” he said. “Governor, we all make mistakes. It’s OK to admit them. We’ve all had to do it from time to time. You can turn this all around today, by rescinding or modifying your counterproductive orders.”
He urged Wolf to sign state Senate Bill 613 into law immediately so that every business and employer can comply “with social distancing, elevated hygiene and disinfection protocols.”
Wolf ended up vetoing the bill later Monday afternoon.
Diamond also appealed to state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to address “an alarmingly increasing number of Pennsylvanians who are frightened, depressed, on the verge of breakdowns, or in despair.
“Their psychological health and well-being is just as important as their physical health and well-being,” Diamond said. “While their physical health is your primary focus at the moment, we cannot lose sight of the psychological repercussions this shutdown may impose for months, or even years, into the future. We cannot allow the cure to be worse than the disease.”
Monday’s rally in Harrisburg was one of several around the country that has been supported at least in part by out-of-state conservative, pro-gun and anti-abortion organizations.
In a Facebook Live video from the Capitol steps shortly before the rally started, Diamond said people “are fired up, they want to get back to work.”
Diamond, who was not wearing a face mask, strolled along a line of protesters, most of whom also were not wearing masks or had masks pulled down to their chins, away from their mouths and noses.
“This is awesome,” Diamond said. “This is a constitutional demonstration of our freedom of speech, our freedom to assemble.”
On his Facebook page, most of the comments under the video were in support of the rally, although some people fretted about the lack of masks and the close proximity of the protesters.
In fact, when a commenter on his Facebook Live feed asked if he was “worried that none of those folks behind you are practicing social distancing like the organizers supposedly said they would do,” Diamond replied, “A lot of police officers around. Shall I have them all arrested?”
In a discussion about the upcoming event on LebTown.com’s Facebook page, Diamond dismissed people who were “clutching their pearls” about safety precautions.
“I own a mask and will wear it,” he wrote. “I will not be closer than 6 feet from anyone.”
He also advised protesters to maintain a six-foot distance from others, although people Monday morning were much more closely packed together.
“I will not be putting a single Pennsylvanian at risk. I am being responsible,” Diamond wrote. “You will not be required to attend.”
Asked Monday why he wasn’t wearing a mask in the video, Diamond responded: “There was no need to wear a mask when I was not near others. When I was standing beside some colleagues and others prior to and after speaking, I wore my mask.”
Later, Diamond said he was “pleased with the turnout. People were well-behaved.”
However, he noted the governor had scheduled a press conference at 12:20 p.m., during the protest, “so I don’t really think he much cares what regular Pennsylvanians are going through.”
State Rep. Frank Ryan, the Republican from the 101st District, also posted a video from the rally, noting it was “great to see so many people standing up for their liberties.”
It wasn’t immediately apparent if Ryan attended to join the rally or briefly came out of the Capitol building while the rally was underway. He was not scheduled to speak at the rally.
In an online briefing last week, Dr. Levine had urged protesters to reconsider attending the event.
Read More: COVID-19 lockdown protests could draw ‘thousands’ to Capitol; Diamond to speak
“You’re putting yourselves at risk for COVID-19,” she warned.
The groups that organized the rally, ReOpen PA, End The Lockdown PA, and Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, were all formed last week, according to a statement from organizers. The statement also notes they “are not affiliated with any political party, political action group, or any other organization.”
Organizers include conservative activists from the Midwest who have orchestrated similar protests in several states.
Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.
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