Everyone knows that HB237, the one that outlaws masks in public throughout the state, is about more than undoing the COVID-era mask mandate so unpopular with certain stripes of North Carolinians — and which, we remind you, happened early in the last year of the Trump Administration.

The bill, currently working its way through the House, does repeal those pesky mask ordinances in such a way so that no business, medical facility, university or other institution could require masks. As a kicker, there’s a clause in clunky legal-ese that says, basically, “especially churches.”

But the true nature of the bill is right there in the name: “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals.”

The true purpose of the bill seems to be an end-around of the First Amendment, creating new ways to disrupt protests and charge organizers with crimes.

It comes on the heels of widespread pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses across the nation, and here at home, where the politically inclined UNC Board of Trustees used a heavy hand in their dealings with students. And it criminalizes many of the aspects of demonstrations themselves, like anonymity, disruption and safety.

Blocking a highway, like Black Lives Matter protesters did in Greensboro during the Racial Reckoning of 2020, would result in Class 2 misdemeanor charges for everyone in the road, Class 1 for people wearing masks. And it creates a path for civil liability against organizers of protests if they block the road for an “emergency vehicle,” like, say, a police car.

Like a lot of laws that seem designed to mess with Black people, this one catches many other communities in its wake.

There is some disagreement between the bill’s authors and legal experts on whether people with disabilities would get in trouble for wearing masks in public. And while plenty of Christian churches in the Triad pushed back against the COVID mask mandates, masks are pretty common in the dozen or so mosques and Islamic centers in the Triad. But they weren’t thinking about that.

Another group that they may not have been thinking about: white supremacists and insurrectionists!

A lot of the treasonous Americans who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 wore masks — though plenty, to be sure, did not. 

When a neo-nazi group Blood Tribe marched on Nashville in February, all of its members hid their faces. It was part of the uniform. Likewise white nationalist group Patriot Front, who marched on Washington in February — with a police escort! — also wore masks as part of their look. And some of the members of the violent neo-nazi 2119 Blood & Soil Crew wore masks when they showed up to reporter Jordan Green’s house in Greensboro to threaten him for doing his job.

Will law enforcement and the NC Legislature treat right-wing reactionaries the same as they do BLM protesters or folks trying to start a union? Thus far in NC history, they have not.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡