Abstract

Despite over 2 million deaths from COVID-19, the Anti-Mask movement has grown in Conservative spaces. This article takes a closer look at the breadth of the Anti-Mask movement, unpacking specific signs, cards, and anthems. I explore the necropolitical implications of their rhetoric, critiquing the ways American Conservative leadership, through the megaphone of the Trump administration, Senator Cruz, and Governor Kemp, facilitate this rhetoric. I aim to contextualize their rationale and explore how the rhetoric surrounding refusing to wear a mask ultimately leaves us with the harsh reality that they, and the politicians who support them, prioritize individual comfort over protecting vulnerable lives.


INTRODUCTION:

Within a year, the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) claimed 2 million lives worldwide (New York Times [NYT], 2021). As of March 2021, nearly 20% of all reported cases and deaths are from the United States alone, despite having only 4% of the world's population (NYT, 2021; Andrew, 2020). Simply put, so far, more Americans have gotten sick and died of COVID-19 per capita than any other country. Despite the rising death toll, vocal opposition to masks has grown, primarily in right-wing communities. Many anti-maskers regard COVID-19 as posing no real danger to them, viewing masks as both ineffective and dangerous (Freedom to Breathe Agency [FTBA], 2020). Some protesters contend that mask mandates for "healthy" individuals are unacceptable constraints to their personal liberties, likening safety measures to tyrannical government overreach (Gessen, 2020; Aratani, 2020). Anti-maskers espouse rhetoric that performs a dangerous social calculus of who may be sacrificed so that they may return to a sense of normalcy without masks, without restrictions, and without safety concessions. The reality of this calculation is even more disturbing considering COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths hit BIPOC (Black Indigenous, and People of Color) elderly, poor, and disabled lives the hardest (Shanks, 2020). Anti-maskers are further fueled by local and federal leaders unwilling to take mask measures seriously, even at the cost of their constituents' lives (Levin et al., 2020).

To be clear, this paper is not debating the efficacy of masks — they work. Models predicted that implementing a universal 1 mask mandate would have saved an additional 125,000 lives between September 2020 and February 2021 (Reiner et al., 2020). Instead, this paper intervenes to investigate the specific rhetoric of the Anti-Mask Movement and the necropolitical implications of their (in)actions. Necropolitics, as coined by Achille Mbembe (2003), is the ultimate expression of sovereignty where sovereignty is characterized as the power or "capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not" (80). Mbembe's point builds on Foucault's Biopower and questions the right to expose a population to conditions so unsafe as to cause their death. Tony Sandset maps the necropolitical underpinnings of COVID-19 in England by conceptualizing necropolitics through the lens of Rob Nixon's Slow Violence, reminding us that during COVID-19, "particular bodies are imagined as lesser than, and inferior to others and therefore regarded as disposable" (2021). Sandset specifically cites disabled individuals, racial minorities, and people working "essential worker" positions as examples of disposable bodies who have been put into positions of chronic exposure to unsafe conditions. The designation of disabled bodies as disposable is illustrated in Pete Shanks' critique of a New England Journal of Medicine's "Sounding Board" article which recommended putting disabled and elderly patients as the lowest priority when distributing scarce medical resources 2 (Shanks, 2020; Emanuel, et al., 2020). Similarly, Lennard Davis wrote that during the pandemic, hospitals discriminated against people with disabilities more than any other singular factor. Davis acknowledged that racism, homophobia, and sexism also play a role, but notes that proclaiming "only disabled people will not get a bed" yields few consequences (Davis, 2020).

While some work has confronted COVID-19 and necropolitics, little criticism has contended with the Anti-Mask Movement in-depth. For example, while discussing "The Universal Right to Breathe" Achille Mbembe and Peggy Piesche (2020) briefly critique the Anti-Mask Movement's lack of collective empathy towards racial injustice. Piesche points out that anti-maskers have appropriated "I can't breathe" from Black Lives Matter (BLM), likening their experience with masks to systematic oppression. However, a detailed conversation about the movement's rhetoric and arguments has yet to be done. Cynthia Barounis (2020) accused anti-maskers of "choosing eugenics over love" but does not elaborate on how their rhetoric makes that choice. She asserts anti-maskers are partisan and dangerously individualistic but does not provide specific examples to examine this claim. News pundits, like Chris Cuomo (2020), condemn anti-maskers for their disregard for human life but do not engage with the implications and ramifications of their rhetoric.

This essay has three parts. First, I investigate how Anti-Mask rhetoric is supported by Conservative leaders. Specifically, I critique how former President Trump, Senator Cruz, and Governor Kemp's (in)actions have facilitated Anti-Mask sentiment, consequently creating a permission structure for vulnerable lives to be sacrificed. Then, I briefly illustrate the breadth of the Anti-Mask Movement, touching on the fraudulent mask exempt cards and lingering anti-vaccination rhetoric. Finally, I dissect multiple Anti-Mask protests, analyzing various protest signs and statements made by anti-maskers with the aim to unpack the necropolitical undercurrent of their rhetoric. Ultimately, the Anti-Mask Movement leaves us with the harsh reality that they, and the politicians who support them, are part of a much more sinister argument that incentivizes willfully and dispassionately prioritizing their own sense of superiority. Instead of wearing a mask to protect the well-being of vulnerable parties, anti-maskers politicize masks, seemingly indifferent to the way COVID-19 disproportionately impacts disabled and BIPOC lives.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORTERS:

The Anti-Mask Movement is not an apolitical phenomenon. In June 2020, a Pew Research Center study found that while the majority of both Republican-leaning and Democrat-leaning individuals were wearing masks, 76% of Democrats self-reported wearing a mask most or all the time compared to only 53% of Republicans (Igielnik, 2020). Further, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, the partisan hesitancy has become more pronounced. In April 2021, a Monmouth Poll showed 43% of self-reported Republicans stated they would refuse the vaccine versus just 5% of self-reported Democrats who suggest the same thing (Murray, 2021). The (in)action of conservative leadership is present from the innumerable "Trump 2020" flags dotting Anti-Mask rallies to prominent conservative leaders doubting mask efficacy. True, some leaders like former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vocally support mask-wearing, many more conservative legislators do not (Katzban, 2020). Former President Trump, Senator Cruz, and Governor Kemp's politicized stance on mask masks exemplify the direction conservative leaders are moving to sustain the Anti-Mask movement.

At a September Trump 2020 rally, one man interviewed by CNN declared COVID-19 was a "hoax" and alleged the virus had not killed "that many" people (Acosta et al., 2020). The United States maintains a 2% case-fatality rate (Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, 2020), yet anti-maskers disagree. Some held "0.00002% 3 does not justify shutdowns" and "I'll take the 0.03% 4 chance: Open Now" signs (Aratani, 2020). Both present COVID-19 as an infinitesimal risk, framing constraints on "healthy" lives as unjustifiable. Meanwhile, days after recovering from his own case of COVID-19, Trump tweeted, "Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" (Shabad, 2020). His tweet misrepresents average flu deaths 5 and dismisses the COVID-19 death toll as "normal". Moreover, his rhetorical question of "are we going to close down our country [for the flu]" reaffirmed the Anti-Mask position that since the risk of death is not worth major life changes for the seasonal flu, it is not worth changing for COVID-19. Trump's flawed comparison that the two viruses pose equivalent risks, causes people to not take the spread as seriously, enabling transmission.

Further, anti-maskers contend that masks themselves are health hazards. Signs include: "Masks kill! Resist the muzzle: Scamdemic" (Gessen, 2020) and "Masks (up arrow) raise CO2 = stress on brain = no learning" (Karalis, 2020). Both argue that masks endanger the wearer. Trump validates these baseless rumors when, during a Sean Hannity interview, he said: "[Trump critics] have been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks. Maybe they are wrong, maybe not. But a lot of them said, don't wear a mask, don't wear a mask. And now they are saying, wear a mask…So, a lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes," (Hannity, 2020). His statement undermined the authority of epidemiologists, like Dr. Fauci, and created a permission structure to dismiss masks. The accusation that "mistakes" were made while rolling out mask mandates mischaracterized the early advisories against universal mask-wearing. Initially, CDC guidelines aimed to prevent mask shortages in hospitals, but when it was known asymptomatic carriers could also spread the virus, the advisory changed (Yan, 2020). Trump politicized masks for political gain in the 2020 election, but the consequence of his waffling is that anti-maskers thrived in his rhetorical grey area.

Mask hesitancy is also propelled by former President Trump's portrayal of herd immunity. In December of 2020, he announced, "you do have an immunity, you develop immunity over a period of time, and I hear we're close to 15% 6, I'm hearing that, and that is terrific, that's a very powerful vaccine in itself and just tremendous progress has been made," (Colson, 2020). When Trump equates exposure to vaccine-established immunity he conflates the associated risks as equal. They are not. Typically, herd immunity occurs when enough members of a given population—ideally over 70%—have been exposed and gained immunity from a disease, limiting transmission (Knight, 2020). Unquestionably, it is a necessary facet for protecting vulnerable groups, but it has never been achieved without vaccines (Aschwanden, 2020). Immunity and exposure percentages are not the same as immunity from exposure has been shown to wane in as little as a few weeks after infection, with second mild cases indicating that an individual may not have produced enough immunogens to render a body immune (Knight, 2020). Vaccines, in contrast, provide a uniform dosage specifically designed to generate an effective immune response (Mandavilli, 2020). Recently, CDC data indicated vaccinated individuals do not carry the virus after a full vaccination, something exposure-only immunity cannot ensure (Maddow, 2021). Yet, from Trump's statement, one would believe COVID-19 is not dangerous to individuals who have already had it, despite reported reinfections. The claim that exposure alone provides adequate protection on par with vaccination downplays the need to follow safety measures.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz compared masks to tyranny. At the 2021 CPAC Cruz calls masks ineffective and implies the new advisory to wear multiple masks is simply virtue signaling (C-SPAN, 2021). Cruz's speech goes on to accuse his critics of turning masks into political theatre based in fear and control while he, and the Conservative party, are offering the country liberty and freedom. The Many anti-maskers use similar rhetoric with one protester saying, "that mask is as useless as our governor" (Price, 2020), while another protester wrote "that facemask you were duped into wearing symbolizes you losing your Freedom of Speech" on a car window (Folgie, 2020). Both paint masks as performative, a farce denoting compassion while consequently surrendering their rights in the process. The pervasive theme of control, fear, and performance downplays the utility of masks as little more than a bid for authoritarian control. However, Cruz's doubts and accusations antagonized masks, encouraging his listeners and constituents to ignore science-based evidence that masks work. Cruz's speech promises his listeners a return to normalcy while consistently painting masks as antithetical to freedom. He enables Anti-Mask rhetoric to view resisting masks as resisting "liberal lies" despite endangering vulnerable lives.

At the local level, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp outright banned mayors and businesses from requiring masks in public establishments early into the pandemic (Amy, 2020). Georgian leaders were powerless to enact any local legislation or require masks. Governor Kemp argued that Georgia should be a "voluntary" mask state while emphasizing masks as a personal choice (Deliso, 2020). By preventing local establishments from implementing safety guidelines, he disincentivized masks, moving the responsibility of public safety onto the individual. Kemp was ultimately sued and forced to allow mask mandates in August 2020, but he justified his actions as necessary for protecting personal liberties over protecting lives with masks (CBS News, 2020). This sentiment is echoed among the Anti-Mask Movement as many protesters, across rallies, have signs reading "my body, my choice" (Hughes et al., 2020; Karalis, 2020). The appropriated Pro-Choice anthem invokes calls for bodily autonomy and the right to an abortion. However, in this context the Anti-Mask Movement and Governor Kemp's laissez-faire approach to public health weaponizes personal liberties, permitting "freedom" to mean the right to put other lives at risk (Gessen et al., 2020).

BREADTH OF THE MOVEMENT:

The reach of the Anti-Mask Movement exceeds misinformation and conservative talking points. This is a broad movement with little formal organization but one Anti-Mask group that is gaining momentum is the Freedom to Breathe Agency (FTBA, 2020). Their website assures visitors they can refuse mask measures because "only personal physicians" can recommend mask-wearing (FTBA, 2020). Meanwhile, a woman claiming to be an FTBA member or affiliate called the Trader Joe's employees "Democratic pigs" for requesting that she wear a mask (CBS Los Angeles, 2020). The incident, one among many, had the member shouting profanities, accusing employees of harassment, and threatening legal action to the store by FTBA (Tyko, 2020). Seemingly, the goal was to bully employees into breaking mask mandates. FTBA's website provides access to easy-to-print, fraudulent ADA exemption cards, which have the sole purpose of circumventing mask mandates.

The FTBA website exposes a pervasive tension during the pandemic: mask fraud versus being unable to wear masks. There are some disabilities, both visible and invisible, which prevent people from safely wearing masks, including, but not limited to, epilepsy and some experiences of autism (Dorfman and Raz, 2020; Pendo et al. 2020). The ADA does ask businesses to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals, like curbside pick-up or face shields instead of masks, it does not supersede mask measures (Tyko, 2020). Circulating around this discussion is the fear of the disability con, or the panic that an individual is faking a disability to gain "special" rights not otherwise afforded to the public (Dorfman, 2019). The paranoia of the "opportunistic faker" harms disabled people by casting suspicion onto them and feeling the need to discern "real" disabled people from "frauds" and not considering disability as fluid. With their cards, FTBA members flagrantly misrepresent the reach of ADA accommodations and are, in effect, threatening shops and businesses to acquiesce to their demands for considerations they do not need. These faux cards scare businesses and individuals into not enforcing masks, abusing the ADA guidelines. As Doran Dorfman points out, feeling "muzzled" by masks is not a legal disability, yet these cards perpetuate the myth of larger pervasive disability fraud (2020). The consequence of these cards means that it opens to door to expose everyone—including the very disabled people they are exploiting—to COVID-19.

As vaccinations have become approved for public use, a secondary problem has arisen among anti-maskers, and indeed the Conservative party: vaccine hesitancy (Oxner, 2021). While the Anti-Mask Movement is not intrinsically anti-vaccination, there is an undercurrent of anti-vaccination rhetoric present which exceeds the protests. Some signs displayed animosity towards vaccination with one Missouri sign proclaiming, "Vaccination is genocide: God gave us an immune system for a reason" (Folgie, 2020) while the FTBA's website currently links to "resources" that promote vaccine denialism. The Missouri protester asserts that their bodies, by default, are provided for; their immune systems alone are sufficient. anti-vaxxers build on similar logics which are based on fears that vaccinations poison the body and, after a debunked 1990's study, the belief vaccinations cause autism (Taylor, et al., 2014). Both movements argue the "natural" body is strong enough to fight viruses unaided and both endanger vulnerable people by their inaction. Seeing these signs at Anti-Mask rallies indicates an appeal to a "natural order" where a "natural" immune system is efficient enough to fight off the viruses without support.

ANTI-MASK PROTESTS:

When nationwide stay-at-home orders were first instituted, Anti-Mask protesters demanded exemption. With sustained support from conservative leaders, anti-maskers alleged masks impeded their civil liberties and violated their rights as "healthy" bodies (Hughes et al., 2020). Their signs ranged from bold claims that "Freedom [image of a mask crossed out] is the cure" (Karnalis, 2020) to more insidious demands of "I need a haircut" (Folgie, 2020). Anti-maskers and their signs rhetorically rationalized their refusals by claiming they were defending their personal, national, and economic freedoms (Gessen, 2020; Hughes, 2020; FTBA, 2020). Yet, COVID-19 is still spreading and disproportionately harming BIPOC and disabled people. Their rhetoric is content in designating some lives as disposable in exchange for normalcy.

At many of these rallies, there is anxiety around being perceived as weak. In May 2020, protesters heckled a journalist wearing a mask, saying about masks, "It's submission, it's muzzling yourself, it looks weak — especially for men" (Hess, 2020). The projection of strength and the assumption that their bodies — particularly male bodies — are weakened by a safety precaution socially or physically harms the wearer. Valerio Capraro and Hélène Barcelo (2020) found a gender disparity indicating that male participants more likely claimed that "wearing a mask is a sign of weakness" motivating them to not wear one. Capraro and Barcelo did not specifically survey Anti-Mask members, but their findings indicate a pervasive perception of masks as an indicator of weakness. One protester best condensed these sentiments by chanting "masks make you weak" at a November 2020 protest (Maisel, 2020). In part, their rationale seems to be that masks make one look (or actually be) weaker and weakness is bad, so masks must be resisted. This flies in the face of the science that masks protect the wearer and the public from the virus. Masks minimize transmission, yet the fear of being seen as weak is being weighed against the vulnerable lives endangered by not wearing a mask.

Amplifying this anxiety is an imposed biological dichotomy between anti-maskers and vulnerable bodies. One sinister sign reads: "Sacrifice the weak: Reopen TN" (Folgie, 2020). The meaning behind their words is plain: we the "strong" will and should survive and "weak" bodies are disposable. The Tennessee sign is no aberration, a sign reading "Qurantine [sic] the sick, not the healthy: Reopen NC" (Gessen, 2020) appeared at a protest a month later. In both signs, the "healthy" bodies are rhetorically differentiated from the "sick" bodies, asserting the "fit" should not be subject to the same limitations placed on the "unfit". Bluntly demanding the outright sacrifice of "weak" lives presupposes that those considered "sick" or "weak" need to make changes to accommodate the "healthy" and the "strong". The trend acknowledges that some bodies will be more deeply affected by the virus than others, and yet, the signs demand the right to expose the bodies they have deemed "weak" to unsafe conditions. Although many in this movement do not believe COVID-19 poses a real risk — many calling the virus a hoax, or asserting the deaths are inflated (Acosta, 2020) — it does not negate the cost-benefit calculation being done. The overarching dismissal of vulnerable lives by anti-maskers in these signs reveals an underlying eugenic-adjacent ideology beneath this movement. In the same breath they claim virtually nobody is affected, they make distinctions between "weak" and "strong" bodies, content with removing these vulnerable groups from the population if it means they can return to normal. It is not based on science, rather, it is based on ableism, racism, and the desire to appear strong.

Circulating these protests is the assertion that masks infringe on Constitutional rights. Stemming from the anxiety of being perceived as weak and fostered by conservative leaders like Senator Cruz, masks became seen as a sign of tyranny, muzzling rather than protecting the wearer. Signs include: "Live FREE or die" (Aratani, 2020), and "Liberty for Safety: No Deal" (Forgie, 2020), "Is it about the virus or is it about control" (Price, 2020), and "Give me liberty or give me COVID-19" (Forgie, 2020). These signs, like the Tea-Party rhetoricians before them, leverage American Revolutionary War imagery to vilify mask mandates as a threat to their personal freedom and the national body. Instead of empowering – as masks allow more people to interact with others more safely — complying with the safety measures is presented as weakening the national body and backtracking into a weaker or more oppressive state of governance. At a rally in Florida, protesters were chanting "communist" and "communism is coming" while a woman said about the new mask mandates, "We're people of America, we do not get treated like the people of China," (Hughes, et al., 2020). Put together, there is a fear of "regressing". The fear is unfounded and steeped in racism, white supremacy, and ableism, but exposes the animosity towards mask-wearing as tied to a perception of a national body that is measuring "strength" with a warped idea of freedom.

Anti-Asian racism, which the Florida protester alluded to, is rampant at these rallies. One demands "MO Reopen Now!: Tyranny is spreading faster than the China Virus" (Forgie, 2020). While the colloquial "coronavirus" or simply "covid" adequately refers to the ongoing pandemic, signs like this one, opt to use racist monikers like the "China Virus", "Wuhan virus", or "Kung-Flu" 7 (Kambhampaty, 2020). The difference denotes a virus which is inextricably tied to ethnically Chinese bodies, asserting their bodies—or bodies perceived as Chinese—are "sicker" than "real" American bodies which are read as white. Tangentially, similarly racist signs like, "COVID-19: This is the longest something made in China has ever lasted," (Forgie, 2020) feeds into the right-wing conspiracy theory that the virus is an escaped bioweapon sent to attack on the national American's health (Darcy, 2021). The conspiracy views Chinese bodies (or Asian bodies presumed to be Chinese) as purposefully hurting the country. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that racist rhetoric, like the "kung-flu" or "China virus" perpetuated by former President Trump, has contributed to violence like the recent Atlanta shootings (Porterfield, 2021). Asian people have reported being assaulted and told to, "take your disease that's ruining our country and go home," cementing the idea the attackers do not view Asian bodies as "really" American (Donaghue, 2020). It also reinforces the idea that Asian bodies are vectors for the virus and need to be punished for "infecting" the United States and making the country sicker.

Many protesters also perceive a strained national economy as a deteriorating national health. While the pandemic has unquestionably caused financial harm to millions of Americans, this is a failure of the federal government's lack of sufficient support, not the mask mandates. Anti-maskers, however, argue that the "lockdown [does] more damage than COVID-19", and some signs read "Save more lives: Open now," (Forgie, 2020). Both arguments acknowledge there is a cost to COVID-19 but argue more lives would be saved if the economy were to open without limitations. Their conclusion weighs lives and potential deaths as less important than the economic costs of a lockdown. The second sign repeats the "open the state," mantra following many of these signs, plainly arguing that it is preferable to have an open economy because protecting vulnerable people has become a burden. In other words, lockdowns are an unacceptable economic sacrifice to the nation at large even though doing so saves lives. Both slogans characterize the safety measures, and not the rising death toll, as causing unbearable harm to the economy plays into this market logic, devaluing at-risk bodies. The repetition of a "reopened'' state across protests argues for a scenario where people may expose others to a deadly virus, but the economic options are open because, to them, it is preferable to a "closed" one where we limit exposure.

The logic of the anti-masker is complicated, particularly when their rhetoric manifests in indifference to life. One anti-masker said: "I hear all the time, people are like, 'I'd rather be safe than sorry, I don't want to be a grandma killer.' I'm sorry to sound so harsh, [but] I'm laughing because grandmas and grandpas die all the time. It's sad. But here's the thing: It's about blind obedience and compliance," (Stewart, 2020). The speaker, recognizing their comment is callous, reasons that death is inevitable anyway, so all the COVID-19 deaths are also inevitable. If we all die eventually, then no preventive measures need to be taken. Elderly deaths become an acceptable exchange for economic comfort because COVID-19 simply accelerated something seen as "inevitable". So, doing nothing to save lives will move the country forward. The dichotomy between anti-masker's lives and mask-wearer's lives is again seen as the interviewee's casts themselves into the role of "independent" and "self-sufficient" against the "obedient" and "compliant" mask-wearing critic they criticize in the article. The apathy to death gives way to the underlying necropolitical norm: some lives (poor, elderly, disabled) are seen as weighing the country down, so they must be sacrificed in order for the majority to return to normal.

CONCLUSION:

From the political leaders to the protesters on the streets, anti-maskers demand a return to "normal" and to regain the real or perceived freedoms they lost to the pandemic. In some ways, their yearning for a return to "before" is sympathetic because COVID-19 has cost many people their livelihoods, their sense of security, and their lives. However, we must be critical of political and social movements pushing for mass (in)action which implicitly and explicitly marks whole populations of its inhabitants as disposable. In extreme cases, anti-maskers outright demand the right to sacrifice the weak, apathetic to the deaths being exchanged. More pervasively, the Anti-Mask Movement designates disabled bodies as sacrificial, flinging rhetoric that separates their "strong" selves from "weak" mask-wearers. On its face, the movement's deliberate refusal to wear masks may appear passive as "simply" arguing against a flimsy piece of fabric is innocuous enough. Yet, their rhetoric is a catalyst that views vulnerable populations as an acceptable price for a sense of "normalcy."

While writing this paper, the United States sped past 558,000 deaths and 30 million cases (NYT, 2021). Of these deaths, disabled, poor, BIPOC 8, and elderly lives are disproportionately represented, pointing to uneven exposure risks. The easiest way to protect these groups is to wear a mask to the best of one's ability and get vaccinated. Yet, the necropolitical implications of the rhetoric present at these protests, imbued in the fraudulent ADA cards, and perpetuated by conservative leaders weighs lives against a calculation of probabilities: the probability of exposure, the probability of symptoms, the probability of hospitalization, the probability of survival, and by extension, the probability of death. Mbembe and Piesche point out that COVID-19 highlights the imbalance in metrics that presume everyone has equality before death. In the case of the pandemic, some people became asymptomatic carriers while others were hospitalized, some people developed decreased lung capacity while others died. The Anti-Mask demand for "normalcy" is not asking for the right to kill, but the right to expose others, and themselves, to a bio-risk.

This problem is not uniquely American. Canada (Hapuhennedige, 2020), UK (Beresford, 2021), India (Dey, 2020), and Brazil (Charner, 2020) have all had Anti-Mask demonstrations. In the face of this spike, we must confront the sinister and destructive politics at play. The biopolitical intersection of white supremacy, economy, bodily difference, and the decision to determine whose life matters and whose life does not is necropolitical. At these protests and in the Anti-Mask Movement, we are seeing a willingness to sacrifice vulnerable lives or discount some deaths as "inevitable". The erosion of compassion for at-risk lives makes moving forward difficult. While effective vaccines are here, it is unlikely that Anti-Mask-ism will stop until we confront their rhetoric head-on and hold our federal and local leaders accountable for their (in)actions. Identifying the Anti-Mask Movement's necropolitics is only the first step in tackling the impact of this movement.

Works Cited

Endnotes

  1. Here, universal is defined as 95% mask use in public. The same study predicts over 95,000 lives would have been saved with 85% mask use in public (Reiner et al., 2020).
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  2. The journal's contributors specifically advised that: "operationalizing the value of maximizing benefits means that people who are sick but could recover if treated are given priority over those who are unlikely to recover even if treated and those who are likely to recover without treatment. Because young, severely ill patients will often comprise many of those who are sick but could recover with treatment, this operationalization also has the effect of giving priority to those who are worst off in the sense of being at risk of dying young and not having a full life," (Emanuel, et al., 2020).
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  3. Likely a reference to the alleged death rate of "real" COVID-19 cases. Some supporters of former President Trump are claiming COVID-19 has only "really" killed 0.00002% of the total population (Insomn, 2020).
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  4. Although it is unclear where the protester got this specific number, it may be a reference to the number of American COVID-19 deaths as a percent of the total US population (Chumley, 2020).
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  5. In the last few years, the United States saw between 22,000-64,000 annual flu deaths. While some strains can reach highs of 100,000 like the 1968 Pandemic, it is an outlier (Shabad, 2020). At this time, the United States has exceeded 389,000 American COVID-19 deaths (NYT, 2021).
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  6. It is unclear where exactly former President Trump is getting this number. It is suspected he is referring to the November 25, 2020 CDC report which published models that estimated 53 million Americans (16% of the country's population) were exposed to COVID-19 from February through September of 2020 (Knight, 2020).
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  7. Both "Kung-flu" and "China Virus" have been popularized by former President Trump (Kambhampaty, 2020).
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  8. Early studies found Black Americans were 37% more likely to die than White Americans, Asian Americans were 53% more likely to die than whites, Indigenous Americans were 26% more likely to die than whites, and Hispanics were 16% more likely to die than White (Oxner, 2021).
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