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Protest organizer plans to bring anti-lockdown demonstration to Algonquin

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The leader of a conservative political action committee in the business of organizing pro-Trump rallies will be in Algonquin Sunday to protest Illinois's extended stay-at-home order.

The protest, hosted by Freedom Movement USA Chairman Brandon Harris, is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Randall Road and County Line Road. If the statewide COVID-19 shutdown continues beyond the protest, Harris said his next stop will be in front of Gov. JB Pritzker's house.

"We will be going to the front of his home and we will be sitting outside of his home," Harris said.

Pritzker extended the executive order Thursday, ahead of the anticipated April 30 end date. The measure sparked ire among Illinois residents who expressed concern that prolonged closures could result in a major economic crisis. At a briefing Tuesday, Pritzker said nonessential businesses will remain closed in favor of public safety. He also noted that "responsible people understand the trade-offs and the consequences of re-opening too early.

"The danger has not passed yet," Pritzker said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt wasn't keen on the idea of a protest.

"I think the stay-at-home order has been put in place by many of the governors in the country because of a little thing called death," Schmitt said. "Since February, [about] 60,000 Americans have died because of the virus and the only way we are going to stem the tide is to continue to stay at home and practice intelligent safeguards."

Schmitt went on to call protests like Harris' "selfish," claiming they put the health of all attendees at risk.

McHenry County was home to 552 positive cases of COVID-19 and 31 deaths as of Tuesday evening, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"If these people think that this is a conspiracy, it isn’t. It’s to keep people from dying and it’s ridiculous to think anything else," Schmitt said. "Why would any government leadership want to close the businesses that pays the bills other than to save the lives of their constituents? Any other thought is lunacy."

Protests such as Harris' have taken place around the world and throughout the U.S. in places like Michigan. There, an "Operation Gridlock" protest led by the Michigan Conservative Coalition drew an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people, according to an Associated Press report. In North Carolina, a leader of an anti-lockdown protest group recently tested positive for COVID-19, local newspaper The News & Observer reported.

Harris, whose organization was registered as a Super PAC in 2019 under the name Freedom USA, said he doesn't want his politics associated with the "Open Illinois Now" protest.

"I’m not in this for the president today. ... I’m in this for the people right now because people like me are going to be left out to dry," Harris said.

In the past month, Harris and his marketing business have personally felt COVID-19's economic impact, he said.

"Until this hit we were on path to do better than we did the first two years we were open Now we’re on path to do basically nothing," Harris said.

Rather than placing the entire state on lock down, Pritzker should limit the order to apply only to those older than 50 and younger than 10 years old, Harris said. He also claimed business owners who feel safe and comfortable opening shop should be allowed to do so.

Harris recently concluded a series of rallies in Will County, where protesters touted Donald Trump flags and signs that read "We demand Illinois open now." He claimed not to be associated with a carnival truck that sold Trump merchandise at the protest. Although he's a self-proclaimed conservative Republican, Harris was adamant that the protests are intended to be non-partisan.

"As much as they want to say they’re helping people, both sides have let a lot of people down," he said.

Not everyone was a fan of the demonstration in Will County. Although some passersby honked and cheered on the crowd, others spit and threw drinks on the protesters, and condemned them for not wearing masks.

Demonstrators were asked to remain at least 6 feet apart and wear masks, but by the third day of protests few were taking those protective measures, Harris said.

"We’ve been providing as much as we can," Harris said.

He hopes to see protesters wearing masks and practicing social distancing at Sunday's rally.

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