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Fact Check: Does proposed NC mask bill exempt KKK?

An image of a KF94 mask next to a pair of glasses.

It’s time now for a fact-check of North Carolina politics. A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly would limit the wearing of masks in public.

But would it grant new freedoms to groups like the Ku Klux Klan? A recent viral post on X claimed the bill “has specific carve outs for entities like the KKK to continue wearing hoods in public.”

Joining me now for a closer look is Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: So who posted this and how widely was this claim seen?

Paul Specht: This was posted by just a random social media user, someone who is an advocate for health care coverage. Their position and their advocacy isn't really important here. What is important is this post was seen by more than 170,000 people, and it was shared by about 400 different accounts on X.

Terry: What would this legislation change? And how were the pre-COVID mask rules related to the KKK?

Specht: We have to go back in time to answer that question. For years, North Carolina has actually banned people from wearing masks in public. Then lawmakers in 2020, when the pandemic hit, they made an exception to that, and they wrote a little line in the law that says you are now allowed to wear masks in public for health reasons.

Well, fast-forward to the present day. Republican lawmakers are concerned about people protesting on college campuses or getting away with crimes because they are wearing medical masks. And so, this bill would propose to delete that section of the law. We got conflicting reports on whether or not someone would be cited or arrested or fined or anything like that for wearing a mask in public. The ACLU said, our reading of it is if you're wearing a mask in public for health reasons, you would be breaking the law under this bill. The bill sponsors say no, it's only if you're trying to conceal your identity.

Where does the KKK come in? Well, in the same law that has banned masks for decades now, there's an exception for people who wear masks or hoods as part of a ceremony or ritual. Some people, including the ACLU, believe that leaves the door open for the KKK to demonstrate in public, so long as they get the proper permits and things like that from their local government.

This bill does not give the KKK any new special treatment. What this bill does is leave alone an existing exemption that dates back decades that some people say might allow the KKK to demonstrate in public with hoods on.

Terry: Now you said part of the reason some lawmakers support this legislation is the recent wave of protests around the country on university and college campuses. What about those who are opposed to this bill? What do they say?

Specht: People who oppose this bill say that it could potentially infringe on federal laws that allow people to protect their health. That's the big talking point at the legislature, is that this bill probably crosses the line, if it is determined in court that it would ban people from wearing masks for health reasons in public.

Terry: What are the prospects for this bill in this legislative short session?

Specht: The bill has passed the Senate and has gone to the House. There are some Republicans who are already speaking out publicly about it, including a woman named Erin Pare. She’s a state House member from here in Wake County, who says that she doesn't think it's necessary. If I were to speculate, I would say the only way for this to get passed would for it to be amended in some way. I do not expect it to become law as written.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim?

Specht: Well, the post said that the bill has “specific carve outs for entities like the KKK to continue wearing hoods in public.” And that's the end of the quote. The bill does not mention the KKK or any other hate groups at all, and it doesn't have any new exemption or any new carve out for the KKK, or similar groups at all.

There might be a kernel of truth in there, and that's that some legal experts say, hey, there's an existing exemption where the KKK might be allowed to demonstrate in public while wearing their hoods or while wearing masks, if they get the proper permits. But there's even a debate over whether they have that freedom.

So this post has a sliver of truth, but largely ignores what the bill does and gives people a really misleading impression of what lawmakers are doing. They are not trying to give the KKK any new freedoms, so we rated this mostly false.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.