Cheering parents watched as children tossed surgical masks into a fire outside the Idaho Capitol in Boise on Saturday as more than 100 people gathered to protest mask mandates as an affront to their civil liberties.
The rally was one of several held statewide in opposition to the coronavirus-related requirements, which health experts have said remain crucial even as vaccines are distributed and the number of new reported cases has dropped.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has never implemented a statewide mask requirement, though nearly a dozen areas of the state have local restrictions, including Boise. For months, Little has been at odds with Lt. Gov Janice McGeachin, a Republican, over pandemic restrictions (in Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets); the state’s current guidelines “strongly” recommend face coverings but require them only in long-term care facilities. McGeachin vehemently opposes any mask mandates.
McGeachin, who appeared in a video last fall that suggested that the pandemic “may or may not be occurring,” was photographed speaking at the Boise protest Saturday.
More than 500,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus can cause.
Republican state Reps. Dorothy Moon and Heather Scott appeared in a video on Friday, giving their support to the “Burn the Mask” rallies.
“At 10 a.m., people are going to be lighting up burn barrels to throw masks in, mandates, emergency orders and replications thereof, because I think everyone is ready for these emergency orders to be lifted,” Moon said in the video.
In a video from the scene in Boise recorded by Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos, six children grab handfuls of blue surgical masks and drop them into the fire as adults warn them not to go too fast.
In the video, a boy shouts, “Destroy them!”
Organizers for the Boise rally had a permit, but the event is being investigated after the fire was set in a barrel, the Idaho State Police said in a statement.
“Those involved with the event were informed both before and during the event that open flames are not allowed on State Capitol grounds,” according to the police.
Saturday’s anti-mask rallies are part of the polarized response to the pandemic across the United States, with some conservatives viewing business restrictions and mask mandates not as public health guidance but a form of government overreach.
“We’re standing here today to rein back government, to reestablish our republican form of government . . . that has balance between the branches,” Darr Moon, who helped to organize Saturday’s demonstration, said in a video interview with Olmos, the Oregon reporter. “That’s not what we have today,” Moon added, saying Little and other governors nationwide have been “running the show.”
Moon, who is married to Dorothy Moon, serves on the national council for the John Birch Society, an ultraconservative group that organized anti-shutdown events throughout the country, including earlier ones in Idaho.
In August, maskless protesters led by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy stormed a special legislative session at the Idaho Capitol, where lawmakers were discussing pandemic measures, breaking down the gallery door and ripping up signs about social distancing. The protests have since come under criticism as dry runs for the extremist violence seen during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Last week, the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi announced that they were dropping statewide mask requirements, much to the concern of health officials who said it was too soon to rescind such measures. That Idaho never had a statewide mask requirement to begin with is not enough for some of the state’s Republican lawmakers. On Tuesday, a House committee took up legislation that would ban mask mandates by any government entity in the state. Under the proposed legislation, private businesses could still require masks.
Idaho has tallied more than 173,000 cases of the coronavirus and at least 1,800 deaths of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.