At the height of its power, the Ku Klux Klan wore hoods in public for two reasons: to instill fear in the community, and to hide their identities from witnesses and law enforcement.
In the mid-20th century, states and municipalities passed anti-mask laws to stop the KKK’s violent activities. If you make it harder to get away with doing bad things, the logic went, fewer people will do those bad things.
That common-sense logic in part impelled the “broken windows” theory that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani embraced to arrest people for petty crimes. This helped drive down crime rates, and made people feel safer. Conversely, the “defund the police” movement and Progressive tilt toward decriminalizing petty theft, eliminating bail for nonviolent offenses, and legalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs in Oregon, has increased crime rates and made people feel a lot more unsafe.
Sowing fear and staying anonymous with masks encourage the worst, baser instincts of many protesters on college campuses and cities around the country. Their support for Palestine has unambiguously become a license to intimidate and harm Jews.
These protestors have not just been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Disturbingly, there has been no hint of criticism at these rallies against Hamas, the genocidal terrorist group that brutally murdered over 1,200 Jews on October 7th, beheading babies, raping women, and kidnapping children and babies. There has not even been a whisper of support at these protests for Hamas to release any of the hostages. Some of these same protesters chant genocidal, antisemitic slogans, call for gassing and killing Jews, brandish signs with Stars of David in garbage cans, deface and vandalize property, synagogues, and community gathering centers associated with Jews.
Some of these same protesters also intimidate Jewish students on college campuses — banging on windows and preventing Jewish students from leaving the Cooper Union library; using unfolded keffiyehs and themselves to block Jewish students from walking or moving at Harvard; preventing Jewish students from attending on-campus meetings at Yale that all other students are welcome to attend; harassing, manhandling, and assaulting Jewish students, especially those wearing anything identifying them as Jews.
Only a few weeks ago, according to multiple witnesses, a megaphone-wielding, pro-Palestine protestor fatally struck Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jew while he waved the flag of Israel. No surprise: many of the attendees at that rally also wore masks to conceal their identities.
Municipalities can enforce existing anti-mask laws or pass new anti-mask laws, especially where universities condone antisemitic activity. Universities should step up to pass similar rules on campuses. Universities can similarly enforce these rules and laws by pulling recognition of, and funding for, those groups that violate them. Universities do not automatically recognize groups on campus and provide them with resources. That is a privilege that a school can refuse to approve, or rescind. It is not a right.
It is no happy accident that those masking themselves are also engaging in inappropriate, intimidating and illegal behavior on campus. Some of these same violators are not even citizens of this country! MIT just announced that it will not fully discipline pro-Palestine who engaged in inappropriate behavior because they are not US citizens. MIT does not want to jeopardize their residency statuses! The University of Pennsylvania student who recently proclaimed she felt “empowered and happy” on the day Hamas terrorists launched their deadly attack against Israeli civilians has since been busted for stealing an Israeli flag on campus. She too isn’t a US citizen.
Rare is the college administration that proactively protects Jews from this bubbling wave of antisemitic intimidation. One of those relatively easy action items that administrations can implement — and alumni should encourage — is to prohibit students and other outsiders from wearing those masks.
The masks are giving license for protestors to intimidate Jewish students and damage property with impunity. Without these masks, these protesters know they can be photographed, identified and more likely to be held accountable for their bad acts. Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from the consequences of your speech — especially when that speech is on private property.
During the height of COVID, government mandated that individuals wear masks in public places in the name of public safety. Government can and should also forbid groups from wearing masks in the name of public safety as well.