Hundreds of people have attended a ‘Freedom Rally’ in a small town in Washington on Saturday after its mayor refused to enforce the state’s COVID restrictions on businesses, citing ‘the Constitutional rights of small town America’.
Large crowds joined the Patriot Prayer-organized rally in Mossyrock, a rural community in Lewis County between Seattle and Portland, with maskless protesters waving flags and chanting against ‘government oppression’.
Attendees – most from out of town – were encouraged to spend money in local restaurants, which were packed with people not wearing masks in defiance of state restrictions.
It came after the town unexpectedly voted last month to ignore Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s state-wide business restrictions to stop the spread of the
Inslee’s restrictions prohibit restaurants, bars and gyms from offering indoor services and setting capacity restrictions on retail stores. The rules apply to all Washington counties until January 4.
Businesses that don’t comply could be hit with fines totaling thousands of dollars.
But Mayor Randall Sasser signed an ordinance saying businesses could stay open in defiance of the state mandates, claiming state officials refuse to give him data about the number of cases in the town, which has a population of 800.
‘They have issued the numbers by commissioner’s district, but not by zip code. And currently in Mossyrock, in our 98564 zip code, there is no information that states that there is any cases whatsoever within our zip code of COVID, or any deaths related to it’, he told
He told DailyMail.com that ‘District Three’ of Lewis county, which encompasses Mossyrock and has a population of around 23,000, has had ‘around 80 cases since March’.
Local critics of Sasser have raised concerns about the ordinance and the maskless rally, with one business owner saying the mayor has ‘gone slightly off the rails’.
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Around 1,000 people attended a ‘Freedom Rally’ in Mossyrock, Washington, organised by far-right group, Patriot Prayer, after the town voted to defy the state’s COVID business restriction ban
Mayor Randall Sasser (pictured) signed an ordinance saying businesses could stay open in defiance of the state mandates, insisting the rural town had a low number of cases
Large crowds, waving flags, gathered in the town to protest COVID restrictions on small businesses
Inslee’s restrictions prohibit restaurants, bars and gyms from offering indoor services and setting capacity restrictions on retail stores
Mossyrock’s 30 businesses are largely dependent on several annual events drawing tourists. An annual Blueberry Festival which was cancelled in August usually attracts 5,000 to the town.
Saturday’s protest, where most attendees were seen without masks, was organized by out-of-state, far-right group, Patriot Prayer.
Mayor Sasser said the town welcomed the protest but did not organize it.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘The governor has over-stepped his powers and has no right to shut down our livelihoods. Everybody has the right to wear or not wear a mask. It comes back to our Constitutional rights to be able to do what we want to do and protect the rights of small town America.’
Patriot Prayer, a pro-Trump organization which is affiliated with the Proud Boys, set up the event following the town’s defiance vote last month,
People were encouraged to spend money in restaurants, which were packed with people not wearing masks
Saturday’s protest, where most attendees were seen without masks, was organized by out-of-state, far-right group, Patriot Prayer.
Groups waved flags, pro-Trump signs and attended speeches. Many of the attendees were from surrounding towns, as well as from out of state
But local critics, including some business owners, have raised concerns over the impact that the vote and the rally could have on their small community
Attendees were encouraged to spend money in local restaurants, which were packed with people not wearing masks
Organizer Joey Gibson said the group is anti government oppression and that ‘The enemy is the government, the people at the top, who are literally trying to put their boots on our necks.’
Some Patriot Prayer demonstrations have become violent, including a 2017 rally on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, but the Mossyrock event passed peacefully.
On Saturday protesters were encouraged to bring money to spend in local stores and restaurants, with long lines outside as well as packed tables inside with people not wearing masks.
Groups waved flags, pro-Trump signs and attended speeches.
Many of the attendees were from surrounding towns, as well as from out of state.
Steve Hurst, who drove 60-miles from Olympia to attend, said he believed the government was arbitrarily oppressing people.
Wearing a Trump 2020 hat, he said: ‘It’s a real disease but it’s not being handled properly, restaurants don’t spread it’,
Mayor Randall Sasser, who was elected in 2017, told DailyMail.com that the town hadn’t organised the rally but did ‘welcome’ it, adding that it was a peaceful event.
He said that Mossyrock was ‘asserting our Constitutional rights as a quaint little town with very few confirmed cases’.
But he admitted that it was difficult to say exactly how many cases the town had had, because the state government data does not break down confirmed cases to their small zip code.
People traveled from different states to attend, eating indoors at packed restaurants in defiance of the state’s COVID restrictions
There were long lines outside restaurants as well as packed tables inside with people not wearing masks
One attendee of the ‘Freedom Rally’, wearing a Trump 2020 hat, gave a TV interview in which he claimed ‘restaurants don’t spread’ the virus
Mayor Sasser, whose ex father-in-law died from coronavirus and who wears a mask himself, added: ‘The governor has way too much power. You can’t do a blanket for everybody if there isn’t an issue in certain communities. He’s over-stepping his powers when it comes to shutting our livelihoods down.’
‘But so far this year, we’ve had 10 suicides, and last year there was only three suicides in Lewis County. So when we look at the shutdowns and everything that’s happening and there’s no data that says the Mossyrock area 98564 zip code has any cases or deaths, why then should we suffer as a city and as citizens following the governor’s mandate?’
He added: ‘Early on, I thought it was a financial thing, but I believe it’s more of a control than anything else. I believe that they want to be able to control us and tell us what we need to do and get us accustomed to always following what they say.
‘I believe also that as people are just following whatever the governor says that it makes it easier for them to … pass legislation for gun control and that sort of thing.’
But local critics, including some business owners, have raised concerns over the impact that the rally could have on their small community
With no definitive local numbers for COVID it is hard to tell how many cases are in Mossyrock, and the surrounding rural areas that make up its school district
The event was organized by Patriot Prayer following the town’s defiance vote last month
But local critics, including some business owners, have raised concerns over the impact that the vote and the rally could have on their small community, which has so far escaped relatively unscathed from the pandemic.
Sona Markholt who runs the family-owned Markholt’s Organics Poultry and Smoked Meats packing company in Mossyrock, told DailyMail.com: ‘The mayor is a nice guy but he’s gone slightly off the rails this time.’
The 55-year-old mother of one added: ‘Covid is real. I have a 75-year-old mother to care for and an essential business to run and the last thing we need is people being told they don’t need to wear masks, and crowds coming here from out of state.’
Paula Aldrich, owner of Aldrich Berry Farm and Market, a small blueberry farm outside of Mossyrock, said she ‘absolutely did not’ attend the rally and considered the protest ‘unwise for the community.’
She added: ‘With the number of people who were in the town, you can imagine that cases are definitely going rise, if they weren’t before.’
Lewis County, where Mossyrock is situated, has suffered 17 deaths, compared to 2,879 in Washington state
In Lewis County as a whole, there have been 1,657 infections among its population of 80,000, including 110 hospitalizations, and 17 deaths.
The wider Washington State has seen 203,790 cases, and 2,918 deaths.
As of last week, all but one county in the state is ‘in the red’, meaning there have been more than 75 new cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.
But with no definitive local numbers it is hard to tell how many cases are in Mossyrock, and the surrounding rural areas that make up its school district.
The local district has begun operating classes for students remotely due to a number of positive tests in the last few months.
The town has been denied a public records request in an attempt to get the county to release cases by ZIP code — with health officials citing privacy laws as patients in a sparsely populated area could be identified.
Washington State’s lockdown restrictions
All counties in Washington are under the following restrictions from November 17 through Monday, January 4. All K-12/higher education, health care, and childcare are exempt and follow alternative guidance. The restrictions do not apply to courts and judicial branch-related proceedings.
1) Indoor Social Gatherings with people from outside your household are prohibited unless they (a) quarantine for fourteen days prior to the social gathering; or (b) quarantine for seven days prior to the social gathering and receive a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 48-hours prior to the gathering.
2) Outdoor Social Gatherings shall be limited to five people from outside your household.
3) Restaurants and Bars are closed for indoor dine-in service. Outdoor dining and to-go service are permitted, provided that all outdoor dining must comply with the requirements of the Outdoor Dining Guidance. Table size for outdoor dining is limited to a maximum of five people.
4) Fitness Facilities and Gyms are closed for indoor operations. Outdoor fitness classes are permitted but are subject to and limited by the outdoor social gathering restriction listed above.
5) Bowling Centers are closed for indoor service.
6) Miscellaneous Venues: All retail activities and business meetings are prohibited. Only professional training and testing that cannot be performed remotely, as well as all court and judicial branch-related proceedings, are allowed. Occupancy in each meeting room is limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
- Miscellaneous venues include: convention/conference centers, designated meeting spaces in a hotel, events centers, fairgrounds, sporting arenas, nonprofit establishment, or a substantially similar venue.
7) Movie Theaters are closed for indoor service. Drive-in movie theaters are permitted and must continue to follow current drive-in movie theater guidance.
8) Museums/Zoos/Aquariums are closed for indoor service.
9) Real Estate: Open houses are prohibited.
10) Wedding and Funerals: Ceremonies are limited to a total of no more than 30 people. Indoor receptions, wakes, or similar gatherings in conjunction with such ceremonies are prohibited.
11) In-Store Retail shall be limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, and common/congregate seating areas and indoor dining facilities such as food courts are closed.
12) Religious Services are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Congregation members/attendees must wear facial coverings at all times and congregation singing is prohibited. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Vocal or instrumental soloists are permitted to perform, and vocal soloists may have a single accompanist. Outdoor services must follow the Outdoor Dining Guidance, found here, applicable to the structure or facility.
13) Professional Services are required to mandate that employees work from home when possible and close offices to the public if possible. Any office that must remain open must limit occupancy to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits.
14) Personal Services are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits.
- Personal service providers include: cosmetologists, cosmetology testing, hairstylists, barbers, estheticians, master estheticians, manicurists, nail salon workers, electrologists, permanent makeup artists, tanning salons, and tattoo artists.
15) Long-term Care Facilities: Outdoor visits are permitted. Indoor visits are prohibited, but individual exceptions for an essential support person or end-of-life care are permitted. These restrictions are also extended to the facilities in Proclamation 20-74, et seq. All other provisions of Proclamations 20-66, et seq., and 20-74, et seq., including all preliminary criteria to allow any visitors, remain in effect.
16) Youth and Adult Sporting Activities: Indoor activities and all contests and games are prohibited. Outdoor activities shall be limited to intra-team practices only, with facial coverings required for all coaches, volunteers and athletes at all times.