COVID-19 NEWS - Demonstrators rally in Olympia against state COVID-19 mandates

GOP Rep. Robert Sutherland of Granite Falls told the crowd he was denied entrance to the statehouse because he refused to get tested.

Seattle Times and Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Opponents of Gov. Jay Inslee’s public-health restrictions to curb COVID-19 descended on the Washington Capitol campus Saturday with flags, signs and vehicle convoys.

Saturday’s demonstration was titled “Government Resistance Impedes Tyranny” and came as some of Inslee’s mandates are gradually being lifted.

Estimates earlier in the week projected that up to 2,500 people could show up at Saturday’s demonstration, which received a permit from state officials.

But at its peak, a Washington State Patrol spokesperson estimated the crowd at about 700 people.

A related and un-permitted event Saturday was expected to bring multiple vehicle convoys to protest Inslee’s mandates. But those were made up of “small groups of vehicles,” according to State Patrol Sgt. Darren Wright, and “no significant traffic issues” popped up.

Still, an energetic crowd Saturday held signs that read “Mandates are illegal” and “You are fired Jay Inslee.”

Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flags were plentiful, as were those supporting former President Donald Trump and others with expletives aimed at President Joe Biden.

Speakers included initiative activist Tim Eyman, several Republican state lawmakers and GOP candidates for Congress. They protested the governor’s emergency orders and other actions taken by the Democratic majorities in the Legislature.

That included the passage by Democrats late Friday of a bill to bar the sale, manufacture and distribution of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Republican Rep. Robert Sutherland of Granite Falls told the crowd he was denied entrance to the statehouse on Friday because he refused to get tested for COVID-19.

“I don’t have COVID. I’m healthy. You can’t keep the people’s representatives from working,” he said. Sutherland said he yelled an expletive at the Legislature’s sergeant-at-arms, prompting cheers from the crowd.

State Sen. Phil Fortunato, a Republican from Auburn, told the crowd that it is “horrible being in the minority.” He asked people living in Democratic districts to work to elect more Republicans.

“We’re here, why? Because freedom is in danger,” state Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, told the cheering crowd.

The rally was organized by a coalition of groups, including the Washington Three Percenters, which has for years organized against what it describes as government tyranny.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been easing in Washington and around the nation, with large numbers of people now having some combination of vaccination, booster shots and natural immunity after recovering from the virus.

Others still are concerned about lifting restrictions too soon.

Inslee’s requirement for people to show verification of vaccination against COVID for large events was lifted March 1. Meanwhile, the statewide mask requirements for schools and businesses such as grocery stores, child care facilities, gyms, bars and other indoor establishments, are set to lift March 12.

Regardless, opponents have criticized those mandates, as well as an ongoing COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state and school employees, and hundreds of thousands of private health care workers. Those requirements — as well as Inslee’s underlying emergency proclamation — remain in effect.

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