Joker arrested for "wearing a mask in public"

Jeremy Putnam, 31, was arrested in Winchester, Virginia, and charged with "wearing a mask in public," a felony in that state.

He was armed with a "sword" in public, which apparently alarmed residents. But they haven't charged him with that; they've charged him with this, a fascinatingly terrible law:

§ 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions.

It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age to, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer...

...with specific exceptions for "traditional holiday costumes," protective or medical masks, or ones for a "bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball."

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18 Responses:

  1. b says:

    Yes, a totally ridiculous law, but you do realize the purpose was to make the ku klux klan illegal, right? If the ADL is to be believed about 15 states have this basic law - what appears to be terrible / insane is the felony part, not the "it is illegal to dress up in sheets and terrorize black people" part.

    • jwz says:

      I did not realize that!

    • Jered says:

      Laudable, but that feels awfully like all those incidental additional crimes that have been created so that law enforcement can be lazy. Like, if you're terrorizing black people by burning crosses on their lawns, you should go away to life for that. No need to throw in "wearing a sheet with intent to harass".

      • Glaurung says:

        Like, if you're terrorizing black people by burning crosses on their lawns, you should go away to life for that. No need to throw in "wearing a sheet with intent to harass".

        These anti-lynching (and incidentally anti KKK) laws were mostly passed in the early 20th century. They predate the civil rights movement and were not about protecting black people so much as trying to do away with public expressions of racism that looked bad.

        This was an era when a black man accused of making sexual advances to a white woman would often be hauled out of jail by a mob and murdered in broad daylight downtown. The entire community would turn out to watch. Families would pack a picnic lunch and bring their children to see the "darkie" get hung from a lamppost.

        Anti lynching and anti KKK laws like this were an attempt to do away with such public displays of inhuman barbarity, because the state lawmakers, who might be perfectly all right with maintaining Jim Crow Laws, cared about what people thought of their state. They didn't want to do away with terrorizing blacks. But they did want to do away with terrorism committed in broad daylight with the implicit approval of the local sheriff. So they banned mask wearing, and criminalized removing someone from police custody, and similarly worded laws designed not to end racist terrorism, but to drive it underground and after hours.

        • Jered says:

          Lovely. MAKE AMERICA HATE AGAIN and all that.

          I keep watching the current political situation with ongoing incredulity. I feel the need to paraphrase Keynes and say that "the political climate can stay irrational longer than you can stay sane."

          It dares me to say that organized government is a disaster and we should just burn it all to the ground, but of course that's exactly what the instigators of the current situation want us to think.

    • Ru says:

      Of course, they could always replicate the spanish holy week and dress up as nazarenes...

      http://www.andalucia.com/festival/easter/nazarenes.htm

  2. Jered says:

    You also might want to previously:
    https://www.jwz.org/blog/2010/03/preliminary-makeup-patterns-to-hide-from-face-detection/ and https://www.jwz.org/blog/2011/03/cv-dazzle/

    Note to self, don't wear dazzle makeup in Virginia.

    Also, that law sounds totally constitutional.

  3. Jim Sweeney says:

    He's not bona-fide!

  4. BHN says:

    We're running out of crimes to keep the prisons filled up?

    (A cynical person might say our government is afraid of its people.)

  5. A Kaleberg says:

    This law was passed to give law enforcement a lever against the Klan. It might sound stupid, but it actually did make a difference. The KKK was a terrorist organization whose members made a point of marching masked to remind blacks that the extra-legal race law enforcers were in town and meant business. The law gave the police license to arrest and unmask the marchers. Then as now, a lot of people were pro-Klan racists, but ashamed of their racism and racist actions. Like internet trolls, they thrived in anonymity. There were a lot fewer Klan terror marches once these laws were passed, though there are still plenty of racists out there.

    (If you've ever seen 'Places in the Heart' you'd understand how this works.)

    • jwz says:

      Did the Klan ever take advantage of the "traditional holiday costume" exemption, or did they decide that marching in plastic Snoopy and Frankenstein masks might be insufficiently terrorizing?

      • A Kaleberg says:

        I sort of doubt a mob of Klansmen on the march could pass for holiday revelers. Granted, those lynchings were often an excuse for a big whites only neighborhood party, but lynch mobs usually didn't bother with masks. I gather that lynch mob members were more than glad to be publicly identified, but terror marchers like to be anonymous.

  6. Bunny says:

    In the 70's there was a law in Norfolk, VA that prohibited males from wearing makeup, except for Hallowe'en night. Therefore, the Miss Gay VA Pageant was held on Oct. 31st every year. Dunno if it was a local Blue Law, or if it is still in effect. Haven't lived there for years. It didn't have anything to do with the Klan, rather with restricting transvestites from walking the streets, except "in costume" for Hallowe'en.

  7. MattyJ says:

    On the one hand, that's not a mask, hood or other device, he could probably get off if he put some effort into his defense.

    On the other hand, WTF dude, you're really creeping everyone out. Stop it.

  8. Bill Paul says:

    Something something everyone loses their minds.

  9. margaret says:

    i've woken up next to people that had way more makeup on than that the night before - and did a much better job of hiding their true face. every night, in every city in america.