Reno Police Jason Soto talks about police stopping citizens who are not wearing masks. Reno Gazette Journal
‘Reopen Nevada’ rally highlights widening political divide over COVID response
Hundreds of people gathered in Reno on Saturday for a second straight week of protests against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s sweeping efforts to contain the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The latest “Reopen Nevada” rally, like last week’s march to the Capitol in Carson City, was held in open defiance of statewide executive orders meant to encourage social distancing and prevent public gatherings of 10 or more people. Police estimated about 250 people showed up for the event.
It also underscored the widening political divide over elected officials’ approach to combatting the COVID crisis, efforts protest organizers framed in starkly partisan terms.
Monica Jaye — a conservative, Reno-based radio talk show host who headlined Saturday’s rally at Rancho San Rafael park — said officials had willfully inflated the virus’ death toll to push a leftist political agenda.
She found plenty of sympathetic ears in a crowd dominated by Trump supporters and organized by a group that’s launched a longshot bid to recall Nevada’s first-term Democratic governor.
“The United States of America is already a socialist country,” Jaye told a few hundred protesters at Rancho San Rafael park. “Those in charge decide where you can and can’t go, what you can and can’t say and whether your business can be open or closed.
“It’s time to take this country back and let them know there’s still people who believe in freedom and will not be stopped. … We’re not out to hurt people, we’re the ones being hurt.”
Jaye later said she had a better chance of being struck by lightning than dying of the coronavirus, a claim that won loud applause from the crowd.
But not all rallygoers sought to downplay the virus’ potentially deadly consequences.
Few listened to Washoe County health officials’ plea to practice social distancing during the event, though at least a dozen donned face masks and made regular use of Costco-sized hand sanitizer pumps scattered around the park.
Chris Martin, a Sparks retiree and one of those following federal officials’ guidance to wear a face mask in public, said she was more afraid of the government than she was of getting the disease.
“It’s my choice, it’s not because we’re afraid,” Martin said when asked about her mask. “We believe our freedoms are being trampled on. I think Gov. Sisolak has destroyed our economy and overreached his position.
“I’d like to see him get the hell out of the way,” Martin added. “We’re old enough to take care of ourselves. I’m retired, thankfully, so I don’t have to worry about not having a job and not having any money to pay my bills. I’m here to support the people that are unemployed against their will.”
Others offered a less politically charged critique of the state’s COVID containment efforts.
David Clizer, a retiree from Sun Valley and a registered nonpartisan, said he was simply worried about keeping loved ones afloat amid the state’s record-breaking economic nosedive.
“We dropped a nuclear bomb on a knife fight, when it comes to this coronavirus response,” Clizer said. “I see the destruction of the economy and I see the impact on people’s lives. One of my sons is going to have to move, another one is hanging loose.
“I think the wrong things are being done about reopening the state right now, so I’m expressing my opinion.”
Protesters, flanked by at least a dozen Reno Police and Washoe County Sheriff’s officers, quickly dispersed the unpermitted demonstration before embarking on a roughly two-mile march south to the Truckee River.
Event organizers have also started an online petition encouraging Sisolak to immediately ease last month’s statewide shutdown of schools, casinos and other nonessential businesses. Fewer than 1,200 had signed on to the effort as of Saturday afternoon.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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