Aaron Ruis of El Cajon manages an assisted-living facility for disabled adults, but Saturday in downtown San Diego he was managing crowd chants at a “freedom rally” to open the state’s economy.

“What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” he said through a megaphone, along with cries of U-S-A and Free-Dom.

Ruis was one of 250 people standing at the corner of State Street and Broadway defying state and city bans on gatherings. Hundreds of others circled in cars past the event, honking their horns and waving American flags.

Many brought signs and flags supporting President Trump. They also brought children. Most demonstrators wore no face coverings.

“A lady from my church shared the [event] information with me,” Ruis said via email after leaving the 2-hour demonstration around 2:30 p.m. “I find it important to share that in the four years I’ve known her, she has never spoken about politics. It is the unprecedented nature of this situation that has drawn many of us into this fight.”

Signs ran the gamut — from “Our Freedom Doesn’t End Where Your Fear Begins” and “I Want to Go Back to School” to “Quarantine Newsom” and “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”

Others: “Fear God, Not COVID-19” and “LET MY PEOPLE GO-LF.”

What led Ruis, 40, to the foot of the Hall of Justice and the Westin San Diego at Emerald Plaza?

“It is clear from our founding documents that the idea that the individual, not the government, knows what’s best for their particular situation,” he said. “In addition, the limitation on governmental powers enumerated in our Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, are most important during times in which the government feels they have an opportunity to infringe on those rights.”

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Like others — including those calling for the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom — Ruis said he got involved because he felt it important to make known to elected officials “that we hold them accountable to these truths.”

San Diego police observed the demonstration from across the street — the south side of Broadway. About a half-dozen officers didn’t move to enforce any anti-crowd orders.

Ruis wasn’t surprised.

“No, I regularly preach in front of the downtown Planned Parenthood and find San Diego PD to be very sensitive to our First Amendment rights,” he said. “They are a first-class department, and I’m very glad they represent us well.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi as saying: “We are balancing the need to enforce and citing people for not social distancing with the anger (and) frustration that people have for being quarantined the last month.”

Did Ruis have any concern that the gathering could fuel the spread of COVID-19?

“That is always a real danger to consider,” he said. “However, many studies have put the estimated contraction rate in the 80 percentile. The majority of measures have been taken to ‘flatten the curve,’ not to stop the inevitable.”

A muscular protester was among the most animated at the “freedom rally.” Photo by Chris Stone

He noted that a vaccine isn’t expected for roughly another 18 months.

“So all things considered, I don’t believe today’s events put us at greater risk weighing the economical crisis and health crisis together,” he said.

Ruis said he’s heard about plans for another anti-lockdown rally on May 1 but had no details.

(Saturday’s event was promoted on Facebook by host Naomi Israel, who posted afterward: “Thank you to everyone who came today and made it what it was. This is the revolution!!!!! The people have not seen anything yet, the next one will be BIGGER! If you’re ready, please like this post and I will create a new event ???????? OPEN CALIFORNIA, open America and stop the … madness ????????.”)

Ruis closed a note to Times of San Diego to say “that our rights come from God, and [hopes] government recognizes this truth. They are not the progenitors of rights. When they forget this, it’s incumbent upon the people to remind them of this.

“We’ll keep speaking louder until they hear.”

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