Wearing Masks At Protests Abdicates Responsibility. And That’s The Point

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Students participate in a protest in support of Palestine and for free speech outside of the Columbia University campus on November 15, 2023 in New York City. The university suspended two student organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voices for Peace, for violating university policies. The tense atmosphere at many college campuses has increased as student groups, activists and others have protested both in support of Israel and Palestine (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Following the October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas, college campuses and streets of major US cities have been filled with rioters chanting anti-Israel slogans and often explicitly demonstrating their fealty to Hamas. As is clear from numerous photographs, most of these protestors conceal their faces.

This is true even of less violent protests. One example is the 100-plus congressional staffers who staged a walkout on Capitol Hill, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Photos show that nearly all the staffers were wearing medical face masks. Presumably, when defying the will of your boss, and the people who elected him or her, it’s best to remain anonymous. And the cowardice extends beyond Capitol Hill.

According to coverage from the Daily Signal, many participants at a George Washington University Vigil for the Martyrs of Palestine” covered their faces. Daily Signal Reporter Mary Margaret Olohan was given a face mask and told to wear one by the pro-Palestine participants so “they” wouldn’t identify her later in pictures.” It’s unclear who “they” is and even more unclear what the result would be of being identified, but the fact remains that pro-Palestine protesters hide behind masks.

But when looking at the history of mask bans, crime, and even France’s so-called “burqa ban,” it begins to make sense.

In response to the COVID-19 virus, many cities required that individuals cover their faces when in a building or in close proximity to other people. People disagreed over the effectiveness of this strategy, but even if these measures were justified, most people are now delighted to go back to semi-normal, maskless life. That is, except, for those protesting in favor of Hamas, a US State Department designated terror group. To understand, it helps to look at the history of masking and its connection to crime.

In 2019 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published “America’s Mask Bans in the Age of Face Recognition Surveillance” denouncing mask bans. Mask bans in the United States date back to New York in 1845 when they were enacted to quell violence between renters and landlords. Later, mask bans were enacted in states Florida, Alabama, West Virginia, and some other southern states in an attempt to stymie the Ku Klux Klan and make it easier for police and civilians to identify Klan members and their supporters.  Most of these mask mandates, according to Middle Tennessee State University’s Free Speech Center, “…use neutral language, typically banning mask wearing that intimidates others.” The key is that these bans were enacted to deter criminal activity and stop giving criminals the legal right to hide their identity when terrorizing blacks and Catholics.

The ACLU report, however, asserts that the actual reason for mask bans was that political leaders “felt that violent racist terrorism was making them look bad.” The report goes on to say that mask bans are an invasion of privacy, especially in our modern era of facial-recognition software and smartphones. In other words, in 2019, before the COVID lockdowns and mask mandates, the ACLU had an ax to grind against mask bans because mask bans help police catch criminals.

But anti-mask-ban rhetoric goes beyond the complaints that people might get caught committing crimes. Some alleged that mask bans, much like math and sandwich bread, are racist.

A June 2023 article in The Trace states, “Philadelphia is considering a ban on ski masks to reduce gun violence. It’s reminiscent of other policies that criminalize Black fashion.” Given that a mere 1.5% of those hitting the slopes in 2021-2022 were Black, this is a strange way to characterize the ski mask. The article ignores the fact that the original purpose of mask bans was to ensure that Klan members could not hide from the law.

To be clear, not all criminals wear masks, and not all masked people are criminals. But the point stands that wearing a mask while protesting in support of vile ideas or while committing a crime serves no purpose other than hiding one’s identity to avoid accountability.

In 2020, mask mandates were au courant, and rioters at “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful” protests hid their faces as they rioted, looted, and burned down buildings. And the cowardice continues today with protestors in Western cities screaming “from the river to the sea” (a chant meaning that from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, Israel should not exist) and physically assaulting Jews. Thanks to COVID-19 popularizing face masks, protesters today hide their faces, thereby making it difficult to identify and prosecute them, as they scream antisemitic slurs that would make a Grand Wizard blush (if you could see his face). And that is the point: pro-Hamas protestors wear masks to avoid accountability.

Not only is hiding one’s face bad for identifying criminals, it is also bad for civil society. Lawmakers in my home, France, agree.

Since 2010 France has banned wearing full face veils, including the niqab and burqa, in public—a measure misleadingly referred to as the “burqa ban.” The law applies equally to people of all religions, ethnicities, and nationalities who wish to cover their face in a public or government building, and it remains perfectly legal to wear a hijab or shayla in public, as many Muslim women in France do. France banned face-coverings because lawmakers believed that they impeded “vivre ensemble,” or citizens’ ability to peacefully coexist and participate fully in French society. And the notion that face covering impedes a healthy society is grounded in solid research.

Researchers at UC Berkeley and Google compared facial expressions across 144 countries and discovered that “people around the world tended to gaze in awe during fireworks displays, show contentment at weddings, furrow their brows in concentration when performing martial arts, show doubt at protests, pain when lifting weights, and triumph at rock concerts and competitive sporting events.” The data are clear—human beings from a tender age communicate with our faces just as much as our words. According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) study, “Even newborns show clear evidence of organized facial expressions defining distinct communicative states that respond to maternal care.”  Facial coverings stymie communication and interpreting emotions—two things that drive human interaction.

Emmanuel Levinas, a French philosopher, once wrote, “The face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation; … the face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation.” To put this in context, much of Levinas’s philosophy is rooted in what it means to encounter, or relate to other people. Seeing another person’s face calls upon us to be responsible to one another as human beings. It stands to reason that hiding one’s face is an attempt to abdicate one’s responsibility to others and to society.

The Klan used masks to terrorize innocent people in the 1920s, as pro-Palestinian and BLM activists do today. Of course, people should be allowed to demonstrate in favor of unpopular or even contemptible ideas without fear of reprisal. But they shouldn’t be allowed to engage in criminal behavior—or to mask themselves to get away with it. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that they have the courage to stand up, unmasked for what they believe in. And like everyone else, they must face responsibility for their actions.

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Ellie Krasne-Cohen is a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum and founder of Krasne Strategies. She is a member of the National Association of Scholars.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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