Eric Brakey, a Republican congressional candidate in the 2nd District, addresses the crowd Saturday during a rally urging the reopening of the state, near the Blaine House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal   Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Hundreds of protesters stood together Saturday, figuratively and literally, between the Blaine House and State House to again rally in favor of reopening Maine faster than Gov. Janet Mills’ latest plan would. Mills was roundly criticized by attendees toting handwritten signs, American flags and “Don’t Tread on Me” banners.

Speakers at the event included Rick Savage, the owner of a Bethel restaurant who defied Mills’ executive “stay safer at home” order Friday by opening his restaurant to sit-down dining, a Penobscot County doctor who said coronavirus quarantine measures have a slew of negative health consequences of their own, and state lawmakers who said they think the Legislature may need to reconvene to serve as a check and balance against the power they said was taken by Gov. Mills under emergency powers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

People in a car hold up a sign Saturday during an Augusta protest rally near the Blaine House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal   Buy this Photo

Well over 300 people took part in the event, either by standing and holding signs, repeatedly driving through the area in cars, trucks and on motorcycles, or taking to the microphone to speak. Many of the speakers however, were drowned out by the honking vehicle horns and revving engines coming from the streets surrounding the state capitol complex.

Only a few participants wore masks, required as of Friday when social distancing is hard to maintain. Many stood shoulder to shoulder along sidewalks and in a parking lot where speakers took to the microphone to decry the state-issued orders that closed down or limited many Maine businesses.

An emotional Cheryl Austin of Wells said she depends on the income from three houses she rents out seasonally; houses she can’t currently rent due to the state’s orders shutting down nonessential businesses and most lodging operations.

“I’ll lose everything if these houses don’t open,” she said.

Dr. Rose Fuchs, who has a private practice in Patten, spoke against the state’s stay-at-home rules, saying the overly restrictive orders are preventing people who need non-COVID-19 medical attention from seeking or being able to get treatment. She added it is impossible for families to visit their loved ones in nursing homes. Fuchs, who spoke without a mask, said most masks do little or nothing to prevent the spread of coronavirus and don’t need to be worn in public.

Adrienne Bennett, a Republican primary candidate in the 2nd District, addresses protesters Saturday during a rally in Augusta. The crowd opposes the plan put forth by Gov. Janet Mills to reopen the state slowly. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal   Buy this Photo

She said when she was in medical school it was accepted that it was worth treating up to 20 people if it would save one life. She said in the pandemic in Maine, one life is being saved for every 40,000 people having to follow the current restrictions.

Fuchs told the crowd, “40,ooo of you are suffering to save one life. I’d call that selfish, even if that one life were mine.”

She said private industry has developed tests that could be used to detect the coronavirus in 15 minutes at a cost of $10, but the government hasn’t approved those tests.

Dale Crafts, candidate for the Republican nomination in Maine 2nd District, speaks Saturday during an Augusta rally to reopen the state and protest the governor’s executive orders. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal    Buy this Photo

Organizers of the event, including Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, did not obtain a city permit for the event, which would be required for parades taking part in city streets or for a gathering of more than 200 people.

Augusta police Chief Jared Mills said overall the event appeared to go fine and there were no arrests related to it, but there were some motorists stopped for traffic violations. He said the event appeared to back traffic up on Western Avenue and State and Capitol streets.

Chief Mills said event organizers worked with police leading up to the event to try to ensure it didn’t require a permit. Mills said, prior to the event, the group planned to spread participants out along sidewalks and as long as they didn’t gather in one large group of more than 200 and didn’t block the roadway, there would be no need for a permit.

Mills said Saturday police wouldn’t know for sure if the event complied with the city’s standards or should have required a permit until the investigation into the entire event is complete.

“It appears there were several groups involved with this gathering so we are just happy that it was a peaceful assembly,” he said.

Pedestrians and people in cars carry signs Saturday during a rally to reopen the state held between the Blaine House and the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal   Buy this Photo

He said police didn’t have an exact count of the number of participants but agreed it seemed larger than a previous, April 20 protest at the same site which was estimated to draw about 300 people.

Mills said prior to the event that officers’ only enforcement of social distancing and mask requirements would be education — talking to people not complying with those rules about keeping themselves and others safe.

Mills agreed, after the event Saturday, that it appeared not all participants were following social distancing rules but said, “we as police are put in a very difficult spot. If we were to take enforcement action against those who were not socially distanced it would be sure to be misconstrued as the police trying to take away their First Amendment right. Therefore we only asked people to space out when it came to our attention.”

At least one man was toting a gun at the event, which appeared to be an assault-style black rifle hung from his shoulders, dangling off his stomach, as he stood with other protesters at the corner of State and Capitol streets. It is legal to openly carry a firearm in Maine.

Several attendees brought their young children to the protest, most of whom were not wearing masks.

One man driving a minivan got out of the van, while stopped in a travel lane at the Capitol and State street intersection stoplight, and stepped out into the middle of State Street to stand and wave a “Stop the Tyranny” sign.

Other signs at the rally include: “Stand now or kneel forever,” “Live Free or Die,” “Mills 4 Prison,” “There is a war: Truth vs. Deception,” “Liberty or Death,” “We want to work!,” “Freedom Trumps commie virus,” “Your fear should not Trump my freedom” and “RIP State of Maine.”

State Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, said he believes the state Legislature should be called back into session to serve as a check and balance on the power Mills has taken by declaring the current situation to be an emergency.

Several political candidates also spoke at the protest.

Pedestrians and people in cars carry signs Saturday during a rally to reopen the state held between the Blaine House and the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal   Buy this Photo

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