People of all ages brought signs Saturday to an event in Courthouse Square billed as a Worldwide Rally for Freedom in Sonora, with hand-scrawled messages that ranged from “Vaccines Kill!” to “Corrupt Radical Teachers.”

More than 250 people turned out at the height of the rally, which was scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. that day. Organizers said the event was for people to stand together against censorship, lockdowns, vaccine passports, school restrictions, erosion of constitutional rights, to support personal sovereignty, and to connect and unite.

Gretchen Boyer, 21, of Columbia, was among several people who brought green-and-yellow State of Jefferson flags.

“I’m anti-mandate, not anti-vax,” Pastor Kim Bankston, 67, with Harvest Christian Fellowship of East Sonora, said as the rally began.

Randy Paré, 70, said he agreed with Bankston. “I had COVID, I haven’t been vaccinated yet. I’m not convinced. I am convinced nobody’s going to make me get a vaccine.”

“It’s really terrible that last year all our first responders, the nurses and doctors, they all put themselves on the line against this new disease, without knowing how infectious it is,” Bankston said. “Now they’re being told they have to get vaccinated or they lose their jobs, and it’s just not right.”

Richard T. Todd, 79, of Sonora, held a sign urging impeachment of President Joe Biden. 

Ron Duckworth, 67, a Sonora resident and U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, stood nearby and hollered “Freedom!” at nearly every passing vehicle on Washington Street. One motorist hollered back, “Freedom isn’t free! Get vaccinated!” and Duckworth yelled back, proclaiming what he saw as the motorist’s confusion.

“I said bulls---, freedom is a choice to get a vaccine or not,” Duckworth said. “You’re better off with herd immunity.”

Suzanne Cruz, 58, a Sonora resident since 1977, was one of several scheduled speakers and she used a microphone to talk about “the Golden Triangle of Freedom” in Courthouse Square.

“A vital component of freedom is the dignity of the individual,” Cruz told her audience. “How do we secure our freedom today? We have to look for leaders who respect the rights and dignity of individuals.”

People in communities across the United States and in other nations around the globe, including Mexico, Canada and Australia, England, Norway, Croatia, and South Africa, staged similar protests opposing vaccine mandates Saturday.

Many people were relaxed and jovial while holding their signs in Courthouse Square. Other people appeared tense, irritated, angry or defensive, including two counter protesters who arrived cursing and trying to provoke people at the larger rally.

“F--- your freedom!” one woman yelled as she walked toward Courthouse Square, while hold a sign that said, “If you think masks are hard to breathe in, try being Black in America!” 

They walked along the Washington Street side of Courthouse Square, then crossed Washington to sit and stand with Faith Hudson, 17, and Taylor De Anda, 17, both Tuolumne, who had arrived early to counter protest across the street from the park.

Hudson and De Anda brought signs that said “Pro Health, Pro Science, Pro Vaccine,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Let’s Fight COVID Together,” “Wear a Mask, Get Vaccinated, Treat People with Kindness,” and “673,000 Deaths, Get Vaccinated.”

“I think people need to try to understand other points of view,” Hudson said. “The world of politics isn’t as black-and-white as it seems. I think educated conversation could go a long way.”

As of Saturday, COVID-19 had contributed to the deaths of more than 673,440 Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Some protesters from the rally crossed Washington Street to try to talk to Hudson, De Anda, and the other counter protesters.

At one point, the counter protesters asked members of the California Valley Patriots to leave at one point, and they did. A woman who did not agree with the counter protesters stayed to talk with them. 

Someone called the police because there was a brief scuffle involving pushing and raised fists.

Sonora police sent officers in at least four different law enforcement vehicles. No one was injured or required medical treatment in the scuffle, and no one was cited, taken into custody, or arrested.

Someone in Courthouse Square remarked that it was ironic, given the counter protesters’ signs about masks and vaccinations, that none of the counter protesters wore masks Saturday. 

Very few people in Courthouse Square wore masks, and neither did police officers who responded to the scuffle outside the Tuolumne County Veterans Hall and Museumbuilding. At least one police officer wore black disposable rubber gloves.

Bucky Harless, 73, of Sonora, said he’s not vaccinated and is frustrated because he sees and hears accounts of doctors saying they can’t do anything for COVID-19 patients.

“What do they do? Let them die?” Harless asked. “What do they give them? My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were diagnosed with COVID and the doctor sent them home with antibiotics and ‘good luck.’

“President Trump and other politicians were given regeneron,” Harless continued. “I have friends and acquaintances who were given hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, and they feel better in a couple of hours. It seems like some doctors are buying a line from D.C., that you can’t try these treatments. I’ve been watching this since March 2020, and there’s been so much lying, lying by the government. They’ve gone warp speed with the vaccines, but not the treatments. They make you sound like a nut if you suggest it.”

David Tingey, 49, a resident of the Cold Springs area, drove a van with pro-vaccine messages on it while people protested in the park. 

Like many people at the protest and counter protest, Tingey used his phone to record video of other people at the event. He drove up and down Washington Street for about an hour Saturday at the height of the protest.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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