Demonstrators in Pittsburgh chant ‘burn your mask’ and ‘impeach Wolf’ in protest of coronavirus restrictions

The focus appeared to be larger than just coronavirus restrictions. Marchers carried signs and wore apparel with the slogans “Blue Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again.”

  • Liz Reid/WESA
  • Katie Blackley/WESA

(Pittsburgh) — Dozens of protesters marched from Pittsburgh’s North Side to Point State Park Saturday morning. The “Americans For Freedom” rally called for the end of a statewide mask mandate and other mitigation practices put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Chants included “Burn your mask!” and “Fauci is a fraud!” One sign read “Don’t let your mask become a muzzle.” Another said “Impeach Wolf.”

But the focus of the protest appeared to be larger than just government-mandated coronavirus restrictions. Marchers carried signs and wore apparel with the slogans “Blue Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again.”

“We want to come together for God, country, really our real great president,” said speaker Jon Kiger, presumably referencing former President Trump, who lost Pennsylvania and the national election to President Biden in November.

Rev. Michael Trenga spoke about abortion before leading a prayer. “Forgive us as a nation, forgive us as a city,” he said.

In addition to prayer, there was music, including a song about PTSD among veterans. The crowd later joined in a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Republican State Rep. Eric Nelson of Westmoreland County implored attendees to vote in favor of two proposed constitutional amendments slated to appear on the May primary ballot. The amendments would limit the governor’s power to declare a state of emergency, giving more say to the state legislature.

“We’re all here to celebrate the freedom that we have and to work together to end this state of emergency,” Nelson said. “Let me ask you, are you tired of one man controlling your life? Are you tired of one man … keeping [your kids] from being in school? Are you tired of that same man shutting down your bars, your restaurants and your businesses?”

Judicial candidates also spoke, including Republicans Patricia McCullough and Paula Patrick, who are both running for state Supreme Court, and independent Butler County judicial candidate Jennifer Gilliland Vanasdale. McCullough said “all law is based on divine law” while Patrick, a former Democrat from Philadelphia, accused her old party of moving too far to the left.

Excitement among attendees grew as right-wing political talk-show host Wendy Bell closed out the event. Bell remarked on a “dynamite turnout” and shouted “thank you” to police officers. The crowd cheered when she said she suspected some of the demonstrators were at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when insurrectionists stormed the building.

“I love America, and that doesn’t make me a villain,” Bell said, falsely claiming that President Biden lost the election. She also said the media was hiding the truth about the election and villainizing patriots such as herself.

While the rioting on Jan. 6 was “was wrong, we all know that,” Bell said, “I am so tired of us, we the people who love this country [being] blamed for something that was obviously planned.”

Despite the promise of high-profile speakers, the crowd appeared smaller than expected. Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said Friday that organizers told the city they expected 300 people to attend. A police radio dispatch estimated the actual turnout to be in the range of 50 to 60 marchers, though others may have arrived at the park later.

Police on motorcycles and bicycles escorted the marchers to the Point, then congregated near the entrance to the tunnel, distanced from the demonstration. At least one officer approached Bell for a photo after the event, which ended around 11:30 a.m.

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