Prosecutors drop mask-wearing charge filed after Virginia gun rally

Published: Feb. 13, 2020 at 10:51 AM EST
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Prosecutors have dropped a felony charge filed against a woman who was cited for wearing a mask in public following


Mikaela E. Beschler, 21, was arrested about an hour after the Jan. 20 rally near the Capitol grounds when Richmond police asked her to remove a bandanna partially covering her face, news outlets have reported.

It was the only arrest made by police during the Lobby Day rally.

Her charge of wearing a mask in public was dismissed Wednesday as the state acknowledged it would have been difficult to prove she “had criminal intent to conceal her identity," Mackenzie Clements, an attorney for Beschler, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A prior Virginia case allows an exception to the law under certain weather conditions, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin told the newspaper Wednesday. Temperatures were freezing that day and hundreds of gatherers had also covered their faces to avoid the cold. McEachin acknowledged that others “were similarly garbed” and weren't cited.

A video posted to a social media account under Beschler's name documented the confrontation with police and showed her complying with their requests. In it, she reveals her face and explains that she was trying to keep warm, The Times-Dispatch said.

Tens of thousands of gun-rights activists from around the country

that day to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation. The size of the crowd and the expected participation of white supremacists raised fears that the state could see violent clashes, but Beschler was the only arrest linked to the rally, news outlets have reported.

The mask law was enacted in the 1950's and was originally aimed at unmasking the Ku Klux Klan in Virginia, the newspaper said. It prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from concealing their face in public with the intent to also conceal their identity. Violators can face up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The wording of

provides multiple exceptions, but weather is not included in the law itself.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia had called on prosecutors to drop the charges, and legal experts contended it was example of selective enforcement and possibly discrimination.

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