DFL closes House gallery to maskless protesters

Democratic leadership said the gallery was closed in order to protect "the health and safety of the members of this body."

Protesters gathered in the Capitol rotunda Thursday for an annual rally hosted by Minnesotans for Health & Parental Rights. (Minnesotans for Health & Parental Rights/Facebook)

Democratic leadership in the Minnesota House decided to close the chamber gallery Thursday after a group of maskless protesters gathered inside the building to support medical freedom.

The protest took place at the Capitol rotunda, but House Democrats closed the gallery overlooking the chamber, presumably on the orders of House Speaker Melissa Hortman, after it was scheduled to be open to the public Thursday.

At the day’s legislative session, Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, a Republican, asked House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler why the gallery was closed and whether any public notice was given beforehand.

Winkler responded by saying a “very large number of people” — the pro-medical freedom, anti-vaccine mandate protesters — were “violating the Capitol rule requiring wearing a mask in the rotunda.”

“And we thought for the health and safety of the members of this body and our staff, it would be better to keep the gallery closed,” he continued. “We anticipate that it will reopen on the floor session Monday.”

But Neu Brindley balked at his explanation and accused the Democrats of closing the gallery simply because they didn’t want to deal with the concerns of certain citizens.

“So what we’re saying is that because the public was here today, then the gallery’s closed,” she said. “I want to be very clear that as it turns out, everyone in this chamber is wearing a mask — well, almost everyone — and there is staff everywhere that could ensure people are wearing a mask as they go in.”

“So what we’ve been told is that the gallery will be open, except of course when the public is actually here to participate from the gallery. Madam Speaker, this is out of control.”

Minnesota House Republicans took to Twitter to criticize the move as well, saying the Democrats “arbitrarily blocked Minnesotans from observing their elected representatives in the People’s House.”

“The gallery shouldn’t close to the public just because Democrats don’t like who’s at the Capitol. This is absolutely unacceptable,” they added.