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Carroll County Freedom Rally holds peaceful, passionate protest in Westminster

Natalie Brown said she wasn’t going to pass up a chance to let her voice be heard.

The former Carroll County Public Schools teacher is now a small-business owner who said she feels wronged by the state’s shutdown over the coronavirus pandemic. When Brown, who lives in Mount Airy, heard of a local group putting together a protest Saturday at the Westminster branch library, she made sure to attend.

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Brown came to the Carroll County Freedom Rally and served as one of the 10 speakers at the event, which lasted for a little more than one hour.

A group called Reopen Maryland has put together several rallies around the region in recent weeks to protest Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration’s handling of the state amid the pandemic. A Carroll County chapter of Reopen Maryland grew from that, and close to 100 people stood in front of the library with signs and clothing that supported their stance.

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“I’ve had enough,” Brown said. “I mean, I voted for Hogan. And he’s not listening to us. We email him, we call him. He never responds. And then gets on TV and there seems to be no progress.”

Brown was part of a guest speaker lineup that included Reopen Maryland co-founder Tim Walters, Board of Education member Ken Kiler, Dels. Haven Shoemaker and April Rose, both District 5 Republicans, and County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4.

Walters gave opening remarks after the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem were broadcast for the group through a public address system. Walters also led the protesters in prayer.

Each speaker was met with applause and cheers during their allotted time, and the message seemed unified ― rallygoers aren’t satisfied with the state’s shutdown orders when it comes to local economies, businesses, religious organizations, and schools.

Kiler was one of a few speakers who used the phrase “flatten the fear” in his comments toward the group. The coronavirus curve has already been flattened in the protesters’ eyes, and not many who took part in Saturday’s rally wore protective masks or adhered to social distancing guidelines.

“It is time to reopen for everyone,” Rose said to the delight of the protesters.

Kim Stuart of Westminster, one of the event organizers, shared a message with the crowd from former county commissioner Richard Rothschild, who called for June 15 to be declared “Carroll County Independence Day” and asked businesses to open in full, as well as people to burn masks in protest.

County and city police had a presence along Main Street, near the library, and people acknowledged them several times during the rally with thanks.

Maryland on Friday afternoon went into the beginning of Phase 2 of Hogan’s three-part reopening plan, but the protesters likened that decision to a baby step. Brown said she hopes rallies such as Saturday’s will help speed up the process of the state’s full reopening.

“I was at the initial protest back in April, in Annapolis, and I left that day feeling energized,” Brown said. “But I wasn’t sure where things were going to go. My husband, he watches things politically, and he said, ‘It’s still putting pressure on Hogan.’ And you’re seeing Hogan, even though he’s holding firm. ... I think when he dumped everything back on the county commissioners, he knew he had to do something. He wants the blame off him, so now he’s dumping it into their hands.

“I do think if we hadn’t protested at all these events, he just would have kept going with his draconian style of leadership.”

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