On September 18th, 2021, various “Freedom Rallies” were held in cities across the country. A look at several such rallies in Kansas and Missouri, and events that preceded them, confirms a key point about these mobilizations – that while focused most vocally on anti-vaxxer and COVID denial themes, these efforts are rooted in far-right politics. Participants espouse far-right conspiracy theories, echo the “Stop the Steal” themes that fueled the January 6 nationalist insurrection, and, ultimately, comprise a far-right movement that is serious about wielding collective power locally.
KANSAS PATRIOTS, KRIS KOBACH, AND JANUARY 6
On September 17th, 2021, Kansas Patriots held a rally in front of City Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. Anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach spoke to about 35 people, depicting COVID-19-related mandates as a form of tyranny imposed by the federal government and telling the crowd that they have a legal basis to refuse any vaccine mandates.
Despite elsewhere advocating an “interpretation” of the 14th Amendment that would gut its birthright citizenship provisions, Kobach referred to the Amendment as “the right to liberty amendment” and told the crowd that this is their greatest defense. Kobach failed to mention that the Amendment unequivocally states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” In the context of opposing COVID-19-related policies, he depicted it as “something that stops you from being thrown in jail without due process.” Kobach has repeatedly attempted to put his 14th Amendment-gutting ideas into public policy action.
Sean McCoy gave an introduction to the Kansas Patriots, boasting about the group’s previous rallies at the state capitol and stating “you know, where they stole the election from us” – an interesting observation, given that the rally’s supposed “health freedom” emphasis. Spurious “Stop the Steal” claims about Donald Trump winning the 2020 election are common in COVID denial mobilizations and events.
Kansas Patriots, originally founded by Sean and April McCoy as the Kansas Red Wave Coalition, also held local rallies at the state capitol in Topeka before the January 6th insurrection. From November 9, 2020, to January 6, 2021, the group organized at least four rallies, amounting to more than one action a month.
On the day of the January 6 insurrection in Washington DC, the McCoys led protestors inside the Topeka state capitol to demand that the election be overturned. Kris Kobach spoke at that rally as well. The group later canceled a January 12 rally, falsely blaming it on Black Lives Matter and anti-fascists rather than violent insurrectionists. Shortly after the insurrection in DC, the McCoys changed their group’s name to Kansas. 
STOP THE MANDATES RALLY IN TOPEKA, KANSAS
As part of the national day of action to oppose COVID-19-related public health policies, Marcie Green organized a “Stop the Mandates Rally” in Topeka, Kansas on Saturday, September 18. Green and some 25 others showed up at the Governor’s mansion with handmade signs and flags. The vastly white and family-oriented crowd waved American flags, a Gadsden Flag, and a Blue Lives Matter flag and carried signs emphasizing anti-COVID-19 vaccine themes.
Continuing the pattern of ripping off slogans from pro-choice women, one sign declared “my body, my choice.” Others read “Force is not coercion” and at least one demonstrated QAnon adherence, declaring “STOP! Medical Tyranny” and containing the QAnon “WWG1WGA” tagline (Where We Go One, We Go All).
After congregating for an hour in front of the Governor’s mansion, the crowd moved to the Capitol building, reaching about 40 people as they stood on the side of the road waving flags and receiving supporting honks from passing cars. There were no speakers at this “Stop the Mandates Rally.”
Throughout the day there was no opposition.
COVID DENIALISTS AND ANTI-VAXXERS GATHER OUTSIDE OF AUSCHWITZ EXHIBIT AT UNION STATION IN KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
Also on September 18, a “Rally for Freedom” with more than 200 attendees took place at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. The majority of protestors were young, white families. There were no speakers and little chanting; just honking and waving between protestors and cars. The signs were the same as in Topeka, though some promoted fears of a communist takeover in America. One particular sign accused Kansas City’s Mayor Quinton Lucas of being a “Satanic Marxist.”
Only one person stood in opposition.
Some at the rally distributed flyers about how to “Take KC Back,” an organized effort to recall Lucas and council members that voted to cut police funds.
As is seen around the country, the rally at Union Station was about more than fears over a “forced vaccination.”
One sign at the rally continued the conspiracist practice of likening the un-vaccinated to Jews and other targets in Nazi Germany, stating “if you ever wondered whether you would have complied during 1930s Germany, now you know.” Before the rally ended, the crowd posed in front of a WW II-era railcar located at Union Station, the site of an exhibit about Auschwitz. The woman taking the photo commented that she “wanted the Auschwitz sign in the background.” Such offensive and antisemitic comparisons are common in COVID denial activism.
417 FREEDOM FIGHTERS in Springfield
The 417 Freedom Fighters held a “RED ALERT” event for “medical freedom” on September 18 in Springfield, Missouri. A crowd of 30 people stood with signs and flags outside of Mercy Hospital. They targeted the hospital due to its implementing a vaccination mandate in July. The crowd stood at the intersection in front of the hospital with their signs, Gadsden flags, a big “Trump Train” flag, and a black and yellow “RESIST” flag. A sign waved at the event accused the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of lying about COVID-19 to take people’s money.
The 417 Freedom Fighters is a far-right Christian group based in Springfield and dedicated to “defending” the “rights of the unvaccinated” and opposing mandates. In effect, they spread misinformation, and exacerbate the refusal to get vaccinated.
The organization, once known as Reopen Springfield, was founded by Dean and Melanie Taylor in April of 2020. Dean and Melanie own “Wedding Street” in Utah and Missouri. They are also founding members of Defending Against Tyranny Event Group (D.A.T. Event Group). They espouse the idea that there is an attack on Christian values and the ability to practice American pride, blaming this “evil” on the Democratic Socialists of America and the “Cancel Culture” movement.
The 417 Freedom Fighters have also encouraged the intimidation of healthcare workers. Christopher Key of the self-proclaimed “Vaccine Police,” a personality on Facebook and Telegram, was a guest speaker at a 417 Freedom Fighters rally on August 14th outside of Mercy Hospital. After the rally Key remained in Springfield for four days to torment healthcare workers. In a now-infamous video, Key and his followers entered a Walgreens telling the pharmacists that they are “under arrest.” They also attempted to serve a phony affidavit to the CEO of Cox Hospital in Springfield. On his last day in town, Key entered a Walmart where he threatened that the pharmacists should be executed by hanging for, in his conspiracy-addled view, violating the Nuremberg Code by administering vaccinations. The pharmacists were able to close the metal gates over their windows before Key could reach them.
COVID-19 is a very real global pandemic that has upended peoples’ lives and led to the deaths of more than 700,000 people in the United States and over 4.5 million worldwide. COVID denialists refuse to take vaccines and wear masks while using conspiracy theories to convince others to refuse measures necessary to stop its spread.
Along the way, they abhorrently promote conspiracy theories that compare themselves to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The rallies that occurred in Kansas and Missouri also make clear that these mobilizations are about more than anxieties surrounding vaccinations and a pandemic. These were events where white Christians and conspiracy theorists are organizing themselves and others for political battle over the next few years.
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