SALT LAKE CITY — One day after President Donald Trump installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, Salt Lake protesters rallied to express their frustration with the news.
It was one of hundreds of demonstrations that took place Thursday around the country calling for Whitaker to recuse himself from the investigation.
In the cold during rush hour, at least 200 protesters showed up in front of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, many holding signs and joining in on patriotic songs.
"I think it's important that our justice system gets to run without interference from anybody. … And I feel like the only reason that they would try to corner Mueller into silence or have him removed is because there's something to hide," Rhonda Devereaux, who took time off from her farm work to attend the rally, told the Deseret News.
Organizers of the protest say installing Whitaker, who will oversee special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation, is a conflict of interest as Whitaker has been an ally to the president. They fear Whitaker will hinder the investigation.
"This is someone who has said publicly how he would essentially kill the investigation, and in my mind that's a serious threat to our entire system of government," protester Marshall Lent said. He held a sign that read "Rule of law, justice for all" on one side, and "Whitaker must recuse" on the other.
For many on Thursday, it was their first time participating in a political rally.
"This was the first time that I've ever been to the point where I felt like I needed to come out and do something. That's how scary it is. … I just feel like, not to be dramatic, but our democracy could be slipping away," David Persche said.
His son, Jaxson Persche, said, "Even as a Republican, this isn't right."
"I just don't want to look back and feel like I didn't do anything," David Persche said.
Similarly, the Barraza brothers had never attended a political rally — until Thursday.
"I feel like democracy's at risk of breaking down. And without democracy, we have no voice as a people. And we can't lose that," said Isaac Barraza, who took a break from homework to attend the rally.
"If he's going to try and overrule anything that Mueller's investigating just because it's going to potentially hurt him … that's not how justice is supposed to prevail. This matters. It's definitely important. To us, and it should be important to everyone else," Isaac Barraza said.
His brother, Josh Barraza, agreed. "Hopes and prayers don't do it, you've got to come out and act on it," he said.
Ransom Smith said he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kiev, Ukraine, during the Orange Revolution, a series of protests against Russian meddling in a presidential election.
"I first fell in love with an American democracy when I was in Ukraine," Smith said. "This is very near and dear to my heart, and I had to show up and express my concern for threats to the integrity of the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election."
David Richardson emphasized the importance of the investigation being "taken to its full extent. "At first the Mueller investigation was considered laudable by both sides, but when it became clear that it wasn't going to be a cover-up, suddenly it became an issue," he said.
Andrew Greer said that he and his friend, Athena Trilon, showed up at the rally because "this country's important to us."
"It feels good to be out here, and it feels good that there's a lot of people here. I just wish that there were more," Greer said.
"It's good to just finally have an outlet. Because, I mean, you can go on social media all you want, but at the end of the day, saying it out loud, yelling it out loud, with a group of like-minded adults is always going to end up getting you a better turnout," Trilon added.
Rallies also took place Thursday in Helper, Heber City, Logan, Ogden, Provo and St. George.