A Washington lawmaker wants to make it a crime to wear a mask, hood, or face-covering bandana while protesting.
Washington State Senator Jim Honeyford introduced the bill after seeing property damage caused by May Day demonstrators in Portland and Olympia. But he says he’s considered raising the issue for years.
“This bill started a long time ago,” said Honeyford, who began thinking about it shortly after the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.
“The easiest way to solve the problem is to eliminate the masks.”
Honeyford believes the anonymity of concealing your identity with a mask emboldens protestors to commit crimes.
The bill includes a list of exemptions such as religious attire, a Halloween costume, or a work-related uniform.
But some say the measure flies in the face of free speech.
“Wearing a mask in public is a form of symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” said Elizabeth Smith, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Washington.
“The exemptions in the legislation, which include Halloween, theatrical productions, cold, and playing sports, show that the bill clearly is aimed at people engaged in protest. Criminalizing expressive conduct by protestors is unconstitutional.”
Honeyford said at least 11 other states and the District of Columbia have laws banning masks or disguises. In California, a broad anti-mask law was struck down in 1979 after Iranian-Americans sued the state, saying the law put them in danger by not allowing them to shield their identities while protesting the new leadership in Iran. California later narrowed the law and made it illegal to wear a mask while committing a crime.
Other states have anti-mask laws that date back several decades. It's been illegal to wear a mask in public in Alabama since 1949, but this and similar laws in neighboring states were mostly a response to increased activity by the Ku Klux Klan.
The introduction of SB 5941 comes as the Washington legislature begins its second special session after failing to agree on a two-year budget.