By Michael Martina
May 14 (Reuters) - A demonstration protesting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order is set to take place on Thursday in the state capital of Lansing, with fears some might carry weapons inside the Capitol building.
Whitmer recently extended the state's stay-at-home order - one of the strictest in the United States - until at least May 28 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.
The protest is organized by Michigan United for Liberty, which says it is a nonprofit with nearly 8,000 members, organized and formed in response to Whitmer's first stay-at-home order in April, which it views as unconstitutional.
Hundreds of protesters, some armed, gathered at Michigan's State Capitol building in Lansing on April 30 to protest against Whitmer's request to the state legislature to extend emergency powers to combat COVID-19.
The rally started on the statehouse steps with members of the Michigan Liberty Militia, who later moved inside the Capitol along with several hundred protesters and demanded to be let onto the House floor, which is prohibited. Some protesters with guns — which are allowed in the statehouse — went to the Senate gallery.
In a joint news release, Michigan State Police (MSP) Col. Joe Gasper and Attorney General Dana Nessel said demonstrators should be safe and respectful and warned that refusing to obey law enforcement or brandishing a firearm with the intent to create fear in others could be subject to criminal prosecution.
"While our desire is to interfere as little as possible in demonstrations, we will not allow unlawful, threatening or intimidating behavior," Gasper said in a statement. "Based on safety concerns expressed following previous demonstrations, attendees can expect to see an increased MSP presence on Thursday."
The Republican-led legislature has declined to outlaw weapons inside the Capitol building, something the Democratic governor lamented in an interview on CNN on Wednesday.
"No one should have to go to work and feel intimidated," said Whitmer. "Making the capitol a gun-free zone is important in making people feel they can do their job safely."
Michigan had the fifth highest toll from COVID-19 in the United States as of Thursday, at 4,714 dead among its 48,021 confirmed cases. (Reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit, Writing by Bill Tarrant, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)
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