Three college students and one former student were arraigned Tuesday and Wednesday and face five years in prison each for wearing masks while protesting a Richmond, Va., Confederate rally Saturday.
The four individuals, who were either current or former Virginia Commonwealth University students, violated a 1952 Virginia law created to unmask Ku Klux Klan members in the state, according to Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“I was wearing the mask to protect myself from people who I was told were filming and photographing us with the intent of doxxing us,” said Caroline Hill, the former student. She said she took part in the Saturday counter-protest to oppose Richmond’s Confederate monuments and “people running around Richmond with Confederate flags intimidating people.”
Police arrested Hill, along with VCU students Ian M. Gerson, Corissa C. Duffey, and Thomas W. Rockett for wearing masks, a couple of which appeared to be Halloween masks. Police had announced prior to the rally that they would be rigorously enforcing the mask law.
“For your safety, I strongly encourage all members of the VCU community to avoid this area Saturday,” said Michael Rao, Virginia Commonwealth University president, in an email sent to the school community before the rally and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There is precedence for violence at this kind of demonstration, and your safety is my paramount concern.”
Rao said that the school took free speech seriously, but that “we also have the autonomy of sound judgment, and we recognize that difficult or contentious debates can be productive only when the threat of violence will not drown out our voices.”
Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond’s general district judge, assigned the four individuals an Oct. 31 trial.
“For a charge of wearing a mask?” said Thorne-Begland regarding the Halloween trial date. “That [date] is available.”
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