Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 12 May 2024

Campus Protesters, Unmasked

Under the 1953 state law, “no person shall unite with two or more others to commit a misdemeanor while wearing white caps, masks, or other disguise.” Doing so can result in felony charges and six to 18 months in prison. Mr. Yost explained that “The First Amendment is a shield against the government, not a sword against fellow students.”

The Ohio statute was written to go after the Ku Klux Klan, which used white hoods in the last century to intimidate blacks, and to avoid discovery and legal consequences. In 1923 some 75,000 Klan members gathered at a rally near Buckeye Lake in Ohio, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. Fifteen other states have similar anti-masking laws, including Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia.


The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the Peach State’s law in 1990 and its survival was seen as a bulwark against hate. The Rev. C.T. Vivian, a civil-rights organizer and compatriot of the Rev. Martin Luther King, said at the time that the court’s decision “helped insure that Georgians will be free of the threat of anonymous terrorism motivated by the bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Masks worn today to harass Jews are no different than those that were once worn to intimidate blacks or the Catholics who were also a Klan target. Masks have been a disturbing element of the campus protests because they add a menacing element to antisemitic slogans and chants.

Student protesters have admitted they are concealing their identities because they don’t want to be identifiable to potential employers. But the ubiquity of masks on campus has allowed many outsiders to infiltrate the student masses without universities knowing if they are members of the school community.

AG Yost said protesters need to “own their advocacy,” and he’s right. The anti-Vietnam war protesters of the 1960s didn’t hide behind masks. If progressive political activists have the courage of their convictions, they’ll proudly show who they are. Masks can make it easier for protesters to think they can get away with crimes and violent acts. Kudos to Mr. Yost for enforcing the law.


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