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Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat running to represent the Badger State in the Senate, quickly changed his tune on protests in 2020, from condemning COVID-19 lockdown protests to praising Black Lives Matter protests.

In March 2020, Wisconsin Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ administration implemented strict COVID-19 restrictions that prohibited non-essential travel and required non-essential businesses and operations to cease, including indoor and outdoor dining at bars and restaurants.

In addition, the stay-at-home order, which permitted socially-distanced outdoor exercise, closed outdoor recreation areas like swimming pools or playgrounds and prohibited “team or contact sports such as by way of example and without limitation, basketball, ultimate frisbee, soccer, or football.”

The restrictions — which were set to expire on April 24 that year — were extended by the Evers-Barnes administration until May 26, two months after the order was implemented.

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Wisconsin Democrat Mandela Barnes, who is seeking to defeat incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson in November, speaks during a campaign event at The Wicked Hop on August 07, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Angered by the lockdowns and restrictions from those in power in the state, Wisconsinites took to the streets to protest. An estimated 1,500 people peacefully protested at the Wisconsin state capitol on April 24, the day the restrictions were set to expire, to show their unhappiness with the decision to extend the order and keep businesses closed. Capitol Police, according to the Wisconsin Watch, said there were no arrests or citations given out that day.

The protest ruffled the feathers of Barnes, who claimed the protesters were “selfish” and “literally flirting with death” after Evers stated that he “celebrates people’s ability to exercise” their First Amendment right.

On the same day of the protest, Barnes, who hopes to defeat incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in the November general election, accused the demonstrators of having “an unrestricted amount of privilege” and “the most selfish behavior” for protesting the lockdowns during an appearance on CNN.

People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020.

People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020.
(KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is a public health crisis that we’re in the middle of,” Barnes said. “These people are literally flirting with death because we are losing lives across this country, we are losing lives in this state. And, specifically, you look at the racial disparities that exist. And this trends along a very dangerous line where people feel like , well, this doesn’t affect me, it only affects those people.”

“This just shows an unrestricted amount of privilege that people think that they have where they can just show up because it is not affecting or impacting, or may not be impacting them, totally disregarding the lives of not just marginalized communities in our state, but impacting and also compromising the lives of themselves and the people that they come around. It is the most selfish behavior that we’re seeing on display,” he added at the time of the protest.

That same day, Barnes called the protests “dangerous” and appeared to compare the Wisconsin protesters to the white supremacists who protested in Charlottesville in 2017.

People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020.

People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020.
(KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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“Look. This is dangerous and it’s not hyperbolic to point out the many Charlottesville parallels,” Barnes wrote in a tweet. “Biggest difference being that it’s taking place in multiple cities/states. Hoping to be wrong here.”

Three days later, during another appearance on CNN, Barnes insisted that protests of the restrictions put into place by the state’s leaders were a “selfish approach.”

“It’s the selfish approach. It is the I, me, mine. I think I’m doing okay, the people around me are doing okay, so everything is fine, totally ignoring that people are losing their lives across the state and across the country,” Barnes said. “Again, I want to caution the people who want to come out to protest to think about somebody other than yourselves. This is not just about you.”

In a tweet issued a few days later in May, Barnes appeared to mock a business owner in the state who drove a minivan that displayed messaging stating, “Open my business” and “My business matters.”

“The most important thing about this is the word ‘MY,'” he wrote.

Barnes also insinuated that his administration’s lockdowns were a mere “inconvenience” that people in the state mistook for “oppression,” which he concluded was a mark of “privilege.”

“People mistake inconvenience for oppression, and what that does is minimize the real pain and historical trauma that actually oppressed communities deal with,” Barnes wrote in a May 5 tweet. “That’s what we call privilege.”

Despite his remarks on the anti-lockdown protests in the state, Barnes enthusiastically supported those in May who took part in Black Lives Matter protests following the deaths of George Floyd and seemingly defended fires that were set by the protesters.

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“Honestly, protests are meant to save this nation,” Barnes wrote in a tweet from his personal account. “To see a city burn on the outside is devastating but hardly compares to the implosion brought by systemic inequity and injustice. Like internal bleeding, you may not see it, but the outcome will be catastrophic if left untreated.”

Demonstrators march in the streets on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  After the city declared a state of emergency curfew, a fourth night of civil unrest occurred after the shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, on August 23.

Demonstrators march in the streets on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After the city declared a state of emergency curfew, a fourth night of civil unrest occurred after the shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, on August 23.
(Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Barnes also claimed the BLM demonstrators were protesting in an attempt to “save this nation.”

“Those who are protesting this injustice are doing so in order to save this nation, and they should be protected,” Barnes claimed in a tweet from his official government account. “To see a city burn on the outside is devastating but hardly compares to the implosion brought by systemic inequity and injustice.”

In an interview with Democracy Now, Barnes furthered his praise of the BLM protesters, claiming they were “trying to bring this country together” and “standing up and demanding an America that is truly representative and responsive to all people.”

Following the shooting death of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Barnes offered multiple remarks and several appearances to discuss the incident, which he claimed “was not an accident” as he attempted to defend the violent protests.

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On August 28, 5 days after Blake was killed, Barnes appeared at a crowded protest in Kenosha and dismissed the COVID-19 guidelines he once championed as he spoke without a mask to the crowd, which had hundreds in attendance.

In September 2020, when asked about concerns from Wisconsin residents about the looting and BLM protests during an interview on Real Talk with Henry SandersBarnes said, “I don’t want people to get caught up in that. I want people to recognize why we are in that place, why people may get disruptive during protests.”

Jacob Blake protesters lit buildings on fire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States on August 24, 2020.

Jacob Blake protesters lit buildings on fire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States on August 24, 2020.
(Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“This is a generations-long issue that, centuries-long issue if you want to be frank, that we’re dealing with,” he said. “This is a reckoning because people have failed to address those underlying issues, have failed to meet the moment after it happens repeatedly.”

Kenosha officials said more than 250 people were arrested on various charges throughout the protests following Blake’s death, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Most of the arrests were for curfew violations, obstructing an officer or disorderly conduct, though some people were arrested on suspicion of weapons violations, drug possession, looting or endangering safety by firing gunshots,” the outlet reported.

On Sept. 14, 2020, Milwaukee’s TMJ4 News reported that local officials estimated the cost to repair the damage throughout the city to be around $30 million to $50 million. Barnes did not immediately reply to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.

The carcasses of the cars burned by protestors the previous night during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake are seen on a used-cars lot in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 26, 2020.

The carcasses of the cars burned by protestors the previous night during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake are seen on a used-cars lot in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 26, 2020.
(KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

In addition to the more than 100 businesses that were damaged or destroyed, an estimated $2 million in damage was done to city-owned property, according to a Kenosha city official cited by ABC News on September 1 that year.

The money, according to Shelly Billingsley, the city’s public works director, was needed to “replace garbage trucks, street lights and traffic signals, among other things,” the outlet reported.

As a result of the lockdown measures from the Evers-Barnes administration, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association estimated in March 2021, a year after the restrictions were put into place, that 10% to 15% of restaraunts in the state had permanently closed, according to TMJ4 News.

In an interview with Fox News Digital this week, Johnson said he is “focused” on defeating Barnes this November, calling the state’s lieutenant governor an “activist” and a “radical leftist” who is trying to “paint himself as a moderate” in the race.

Sen.  Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., takes his seat for the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Subcommittee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., takes his seat for the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Subcommittee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“I’m running against somebody who’s been a political activist,” Johnson said. “It’s very hard to point to accomplishments. As lieutenant governor I know he ran up an almost $600,000 tab having the state highway patrol drive him around and provide security to him, and at the same time he’s supported by groups that are leading the ‘Defund the Police’ movement. He was certainly touting his t-shirt that talked about abolishing ICE. He’s a radical leftist. Now, he’s trying to paint himself as a moderate, and the media is trying to go along with that, but he’s really a radical leftist. And I think the contrast between him and I is stark.”

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In order to find areas of agreement, Johnson said he has used a “business person’s perspective” throughout his career in the Senate and insisted he can accomplish a “whole lot more” if elected by Wisconsin residents to serve another term.



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