Springfield, IL (WGEM) - Roughly 800 people participated in the Reopen Illinois rally outside the Illinois Capitol Saturday afternoon.
The group filled sidewalks, lawns and eventually the street in front of the Abraham Lincoln statue.
People of all ages said they want Gov. JB Pritzker to reopen the state and "give them their freedom back."
Several people held anti-Semitic posters during the rally.
WGEM's Capitol Bureau Chief Mike Miletich asked Doug Walter why he was comparing Pritzker to Adolf Hitler. The Pana resident's sign showed a photo of the governor with an equal sign next to the leader of the Nazi party.
"Are you serious? He's trying to control all of the people in this country, or this state," Walter said. "That's why I'm doing it. Why would he send his kid and his wife to Florida to open the state up when they must all be dying down there? Right? Cuz they opened their state. They haven't opened our state."
"They are one in the same."
"Is it okay to have an anti-Semitic sign like this," Miletich asked. "You bet it is." Walter then pointed to Pritzker's photo. "He is Hitler. They are one in the same. They are one in the same."
A separate participant at the rally held a sign with Hitler's mustache drawn on a photo of Pritzker with swastikas drawn on both sides.
The Bureau asked Linda Scheaffer if she knew the governor's family history.
She said it doesn't matter, "because he's a hypocrite." However, Scheaffer added she would not partake in an interview.
The Pritzker administration addressed the protesters in a statement Saturday night.
"Today, as millions of Illinoisans followed the public health guidance in place to keep everyone safe, a loud minority gathered in an attempt to get headlines for their hateful, ignorant, anti-Semitic protest against science," stated spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.
"We know the majority of Illinoisans who remain vigilant in this fight against COVID-19 are the reason we’re flattening the curve and those gathering in defiance of the medical experts have them to thank for their health and safety."
"Another, larger, Reopen Illinois protest in Springfield today brings out more offensive signs comparing Governor JB Pritzker to Hitler," said Laurence Bolotin, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee in Chicago.
"Reopen Illinois and the protest organizers and politicians supporting this cause have an obligation to condemn such ill-chosen analogies or risk associating their movement with those who seek to belittle the memories of the millions slain by the Nazi regime."
Similar posters have been seen at other rallies in Springfield and Chicago.
Anti-Defamation League Midwest Regional Director David Goldenberg also addressed the posters.
"The comparison of our democratically elected governor to Hitler is antisemitic – period," Goldenberg stated.
"Such vile comparisons trivialize and dishonor the memories of the millions killed by Nazi Germany. With antisemitic incidents at an all-time high and up 340% in Illinois since 2016, these protests are becoming rallying points for hate and extremism."
Goldenberg added his organization is deeply concerned "by the silence" of the many speakers and elected officials failing to condemn the racist messages.
"Leaders across the state and political spectrum must forcefully and unambiguously condemn this language."
Lawmakers address the crowd
Several Illinois Republican lawmakers spoke during the rally. Rep. Chris Miller (R-Oakland) led the group in shouting "give me liberty, or give me death!"
The Eastern Blok member says it's time to take our state back. However, he spent a portion of his speech talking about a silver lining found in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The silver lining here is we are able to identify our enemies - both foreign and domestic," Miller shouted. "We have identified China as a foreign enemy. We have identified our domestic enemies in Nancy Pelosi and JB Pritzker."
The crowd erupted in a chorus of cheers and booing. "She wants to destroy the United States of America and he wants to destroy the state of Illinois."
Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) highlighted his legal battle against Pritzker's stay-at-home order.
"We've got to take Illinois back. That starts today. Are you ready," Bailey asked. "We're taking our state back guys."
Bailey also discussed the anticipated return to session for lawmakers next week.
House and Senate leaders are following guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health, but Bailey said he won't wear a mask.
"Taking my freedom"
"If you want to wear a mask to protect yourself, you wear a mask. That's perfectly fine. That's the purpose of a mask - to protect yourself. I have no problem with that, but don't be sitting there trampling my rights like the Chicago Democrats are doing and taking my freedom," Bailey exclaimed.
Face coverings were hard to find in the crowd, and no one practiced social distancing.
U.S. Senate candidate Mark Curran made fun of Gov. Pritzker's facial covering requirement for Illinois residents.
Curran also invited the crowd to go to Sen. Dick Durbin's Springfield home.
"I'm sure he'd welcome us all to a few cocktails. We could talk about what he did for the last 38 years watching Illinois become the fiscal nightmare of the United States."
Curran is running against Durbin in the November election.
Small business perspective
The first speaker for the Reopen rally drove from Peoria. Adam White owns RC Outfitters in the river city's downtown.
He reopened the athletic store in defiance of Pritzker's extension of the stay-at-home order.
White also has a lawsuit against the governor stating the order deprives Running Central of business.
"Please make no mistake, because I'm standing up here in front of you doesn't make me any different than any one of you," White said. "I'm just like all of you right here and we're here because of a cause."
He pointed to a sign stating "My rights don't end where your fear begins." White said that couldn't be more true.
He also highlighted why he is fighting for his employees. White says they believe in serving the local community and rely on the business for their paycheck.
"They don't want to milk handouts, they don't want to sit on unemployment. They want to earn their living," White said. "We need to take this state back. We need to give our communities the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to come and shop or not."
White's court case has been moved to Sangamon County. He is expected to appear in Springfield on Tuesday.