A group of about 30 people gathered with a megaphone outside Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz’s house Friday evening to protest his handling of the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, promote conspiracy theories and push back on state and county mandates on mask-wearing in public.
As Colleen Palmer, 42, held a sign that said “Masking is a satanic ritual,” a man in a Trump shirt with an American flag played “Proud to Be an American” and “America the Beautiful” on a loudspeaker.
One protester took the megaphone to tell Lutz and his neighbors, “The vaccine is coming with a chip,” and that, “I am not a conspiracy theorist. I’m a realist.”
Kelli Hawkins, spokesperson for Spokane Regional Health District, said the health district believed the protest was related to Lutz’s recent decision to jail a COVID-19-positive homeless man who refused to self-isolate.
While one protester held a sign about the jailing, most said they were there to protest masks. The group was organized by Casey Whalen of People’s Rights, a newly emerging organization based in Boise.
“Nobody has the authority over anybody else,” Whalen said.
Whalen said he couldn’t answer how mandates to wear a mask differ from mandates to wear a seat belt, but repeated that “nobody has authority.” He said whether it’s driving without a license, driving without a seat belt or shopping without a mask, people should have a personal choice.
Last week, Lutz pointed to the reasoning of philosopher John Rawls, who argued that one person’s freedom stops where it infringes on another person’s freedom. When people argue it’s against their constitutional rights to be made to do something, Lutz said nobody has the constitutional right to harm another person by spreading a deadly disease.
“There is a fundamental tension that exists within public health ethics,” Lutz said last week. “Public health ethics looks at the entire population. We have a community-based approach. At times, individual rights become secondary to the larger community.”
Standing on the sidewalk outside Lutz’s house, Jeff Irish said he does not see the virus as a threat to the community. Irish, and several other protesters, said they don’t trust reports of COVID-19-related deaths or media interpretations of those statistics.
Irish and protester Rich Monroe acknowledged that in recent days, the United States’ coronavirus death toll accounts for about 140,000 COVID-19 deaths out of 600,000 reported worldwide, a disproportionate death rate given the United States makes up 4% of the world’s population.
Monroe said he believes numbers are “distorted” to induce “fear mongering” as part of an agenda to control people.
When asked who benefits from the agenda, protesters did not identify specific people or groups. Monroe said the beneficiaries of the agenda are “people at the top.”
“There’s a new order coming in,” he said. “We’re also worried about mandatory vaccines.”
Palmer, with her sign about satanic masking, said she and her friends at the protest believe the virus is serious but that mask-wearing puts healthy people at risk. She also said mask-wearing prevents human connection, spiritual connection to others and free speech, making it satanic.
For Darla Krug, her son’s Down syndrome is her greatest concern. She believes wearing a mask is unsafe for him due to a potentially compromised immune system. She said her doctor refused to give her son a medical exemption from wearing a mask despite the articles she’d read about masks’ dangers to people with Down syndrome.
Krug said the virus needs to “run its course” so the population will have herd immunity. She also said she’s worried about her son getting coronavirus and that she believes him wearing a mask increases his risk.
When asked if she would wear a mask to protect him from infection, she said she would not
Several police cars were parked on Lutz’s street to monitor the event. Police asked protesters not to leave the sidewalk and enter Lutz’s property or to impede traffic, Sgt. Teresa Fuller said. She said the night remained peaceful.
Fuller said the mission of police while the mask mandate is in place is to educate, not make arrests, and that officers were outside Lutz’s home to protect everyone’s right to free speech and safety.