A bullhorn was passed from speaker to speaker gathered Friday outside the Bexar County Courthouse to protest mask mandates in schools and other public places. The crowd of 40-50 mostly women, along with 10 children, some small enough to be in strollers, were delivering their message as loudly and bluntly as possible.

Hand-lettered posters served as shade elements under the hot August sun.
“I know my child best.”

“Un-muzzle my grandbabies!”

“Mask Yourself! Leave My Kids Alone!”

I waited until the third speaker, who would only identify herself as Elizabeth, a 47-year small businesswoman, finished shouting out a string of factually incorrect claims debunking mask use.

She held aloft a poster as she spoke: “Follow the Sciece (sic) — Masks Don’t Work”

“Do you believe the coronavirus is spread by person-to-person contact, and that masks and social distancing serve as effective mechanisms to prevent its spread?” I asked her.

“It doesn’t f—— matter,” she screamed, stepping into uncomfortable proximity to me. Even masked and fully vaccinated, at age 68 I felt vulnerable. The same woman appeared in an afternoon protest that followed the late morning event I attended. At the second event, she identified herself to reporter Lindsey Carnett as Jennifer Garza.

Patty Gibbons, center with bullhorn, stands next to a woman who identified herself as Elizabeth and then Jennifer Garza three hours later at another anti-mask event, during a protest outside of the Bexar County Courthouse. Credit: Robert Rivard / San Antonio Report

Another protester made a beeline for me as he saw me interviewing “Elizabeth,” and politely introduced himself as Kevin Kincaide. Despite his friendly demeanor, Kincaide’s extreme views made it clear that some in attendance not only reject masks, they reject established science and are held hostage by their beliefs in government conspiracies.

“Do you realize the mask you’re wearing was made in China, and probably has an engineered bioweapon embedded in it?” he asked.

“Do you realize your shirt was probably made in China, too?” I asked.

Kincaide told me he suffers from an autoimmune disease and is pretty sure he contracted COVID-19 in 2020, which left him sick for six weeks.

“And I got through it,” he said, “just like 99% of the people who get it.”

“Yeah, 99% get through it fine,” “Elizabeth” confirmed.

“What about the other 1%, especially seniors like me?” I asked. “What about the nearly 4,000 people in Bexar County who have died of COVID? What about the thousands more hospitalized and in intensive care units?”

“They didn’t die of COVID, they haven’t even been able to isolate the virus,” Kincaide said. “Look, I believe our own government is involved, including Fauci.”

Kincaide looked around and turned back to me: “This is our freedom.” We bumped fists and I turned my attention to other speakers.

“I was a teacher in the Northside School District, forced to wear a mask all day long,” said Jamie Marroquin. “I spoke up, I questioned the policy. I was targeted. I had to leave teaching. That’s why I quit on June 4.”

Students at Folks Middle school where she worked as a special education teacher and soccer coach, Marroquin said, were suffering oxygen deprivation that could stunt their growth.

“Suicide and depression went up” as a result, she claimed.

A man took the bullhorn.

“We know 40% of the illegal aliens have COVID and they do not have to wear masks,” he said, eliciting shouts and boos.

The crowd began to chant “recall, recall, recall” as the speaker took aim at Mayor Ron Nirenberg, calling him “Mayor Chick-fil-A” and adding that the pandemic was the work of “politicians and journalists.”

Patty Gibbons, a former candidate for City Councilman John Courage’s District 9 seat, and now the president of the Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association, was next on the bullhorn.

Gibbons went on the attack against Dr. Junda Woo, the medical director at Metro Health, mangling her name, and misidentifying her as a Bexar County employee. She derided Woo as a former journalist and someone who once worked at Planned Parenthood as if such work undermined her medical and public health credentials. You can listen to some of her remarks in the 2-minute video I recorded.

I do not share these scenes with readers to belittle individuals. I do so because I believe they are clearly living in a state of delusion, one devoid of science and facts, one filled with lies, disinformation, and misguided claims of personal freedom somehow threatened by prudent public health measures such as vaccination, mask use, and social distancing.

They are a danger to themselves, to their children, and a serious roadblock to containing the pandemic.

I share these scenes as wake-up calls. We are more than just a country divided politically, still fighting over the last national election, one that drew a record number of voters to the polls despite the pandemic, and one that former President Donald Trump clearly lost with no evidence of the organized fraud or vote manipulation he and his followers continue to assert.

Most of the protesters Friday appeared to be educated, middle-class adults, mostly white, who should know better. But they do not know better.

These people have been brainwashed, and their collective beliefs and the elected leaders who willingly seek their votes represent a dangerous challenge to democracy. I do not know how to undo the damage done by an autocratic president who tried to delegitimize the election and use the powers of his office to stay in power. His populist distrust of Washington institutions, scientists, his belief in the “deep state,” his anti-immigrant sentiments — all of it has fueled a movement that continues to metastasize seven months after he left office.

Friday’s anti-mask protesters and their seemingly wacky claims should scare you. They scare me. Their embrace of so many lies threatening public health anew is spreading, just like a virus, one where there is no vaccination, no safety in masks.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.