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Ex-Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge on shutdown protesters: ‘…now’s not the time to be about self’

The former Pa. governor said, the most patriotic thing people can do right now is to stay home and follow health experts’ guidelines. 

  • Brett Sholtis
Former governor and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testifies at a House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday April 8, 2019.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennslyvania

Former governor and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testifies at a House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday April 8, 2019.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennslyvania

Former governor and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testifies at a House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday April 8, 2019.

(Harrisburg) — Former U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is criticizing protesters who have gathered in recent weeks to oppose coronavirus-related shutdown orders across the country.

Ridge spoke on WITF’s Smart Talk Friday, shortly after USA Today published his op-ed, “Selfish protests against stay-at-home orders dishonor America’s veterans.”

Ridge, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, said he understands that people need to get back to work and support their families. However, he said, the most patriotic thing people can do right now is to stay home and follow health experts’ guidelines. 

When people gather at rallies, especially when they don’t wear face masks, they risk sickening others, Ridge said. 

“They’re not about self-sacrifice, they’re about self, and now’s not the time to be about self,” Ridge said. “This is about saving Americans—not giving your own ego an opportunity to ventilate.”

The public comments from Ridge, a Republican, come in the days since protesters — some carrying rifles — gathered at the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg, and one day after protesters, including some who were armed, flooded the state capitol in Michigan.  

Ridge, who served in Vietnam, took particular exception with people at rallies, including the one in Harrisburg, who carried military style firearms and equipment and shouted down some of the nurses and health care workers who were encouraging people to stay home.  

“I think it’s a pretty gutless enterprise to show up with a firearm and confront the people who are in harm’s way,” he said. 

Ridge noted that he and others on a bipartisan committee warned lawmakers six years ago that the U.S. needed to prepare for a pandemic. 

National polls have shown overwhelming support for the shutdown orders. However, those at the rallies have said economic issues are more of a threat than the virus. At least 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

While the “reopen” rallies may tap into frustrations over lost jobs and wages, they’ve been organized in part by a small group of far-right activists from Ohio who run a number of firearms owners’ groups. 

At the Harrisburg rally, some who attended said they were still employed, but wanted to protest against what they saw as government overreach. Others waved flags in support of Republican President Donald Trump, as well as signs criticizing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. 

As of Friday afternoon, Wolf announced a plan to begin loosening restrictions in 24 mostly rural counties beginning May 8. Most counties, however, remain under stay-at-home orders with many businesses shut down.

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