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 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.

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.

Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Co., was greeted like a rock star at Saturday’s protest, drawing cheers and shaking hands and posing for photographs arm in arm with other protesters. After criticizing Gov. Mills on national television Thursday night, he opened his restaurant Friday and seated a large crowd of customers in defiance of state rules that limit restaurants to takeout service only. His health and liquor licenses were suspended by the state as a result.

He said fundraising has brought in “up to $100,000” that would be used to sue the state, in a lawsuit he said would also represent Maine small business owners who have lost money due to the pandemic shutdown. He said he’s lost $650,000 in revenue due to being shut down.

“I think you might see, this week, they’ll rescind (Mills’) orders, because they’re unconstitutional,” Savage said. “Everybody needs to stand together. To open up together.”

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.

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, “40,000 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.

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.

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.

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