On Wednesday afternoon, Mary-Ann Baldwin, the mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina, announced that face coverings will be mandatory throughout the city starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, and should be worn by all members of the public when they're in supermarkets and other businesses, on sidewalks or in parking lots, or using public transportation.
Several other cities and counties have already taken that step and, earlier this week, governor Roy Cooper said that a statewide requirement was "absolutely on the table" as the number of confirmed positive cases of coronavirus and the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations have continued to rise at a still-alarming rate.
Regardless of what the state does or does not require, the critical thinkers behind the ReOpen NC group are suggesting that their followers shouldn't just skip the masks entirely; they should also set them on fire. In a recent Facebook video, ReOpen's co-founder Ashley Smith tries to look as menacing as anyone can while they're wearing a pair of flip-flops and standing in front of their own flower beds.
"As you know we're a group that is completely against mandatory anything. We're for personal liberty and the Constitution and personal freedom and I'm just here today to start what I hope is going to be a campaign of everybody participating," she said. "I'm standing up and I'm saying 'I will not comply.'"
"This does not prevent the spread of COVID," Smith said, dramatically stretching a surgical mask's elastic ear loops between her fingers. "This is not a sign of your compassion, or your… how much you care for any other human being. This is a sign of control. This is a sign to tell them you're going to comply."
Smith then said she "[challenged] every single person watching this video" to, apparently, buy a box of surgical masks and then burn them. To demonstrate, she then put a single mask into a cast iron skillet on her driveway, and somehow skipped right past the well-seasoned irony of saying "I want everybody to be safe" while setting some PPE on fire. ("That fire burned at 300 degrees Karenheit," one Facebook commenter wrote.)
In a second, even sadder video, the Star Spangled Banner plays on a tinny portable speaker while someone cooks a hotdog over a half-lit mask that seemed to be burning out of sheer embarrassment. Both Facebook posts encouraged followers to use the hashtag #IgniteFreedom, which ReOpen NC apparently did not investigate before typing it into their video caption; #IgniteFreedom is the name of an anti-human trafficking campaign that was launched in January by Swiss humanitarian organization Youth Underground. (Literally none of the 500+ posts currently tagged #IgniteFreedom on Instagram show the charred edges of a face mask, which is reassuring, or at least as reassuring as it can be, since the other 500 posts reference human trafficking. Additionally, the #BurnYourMaskChallenge does not appear to have caught on at all on either Twitter or TikTok.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this isn't the first questionable behavior that has come out of the Smith residence. In late May, Adam Smith posted a Facebook Live video while he drove, and for 17 minutes he half-watched the road while warning his audience that he would kill to protect the country from the "New World Order." In the video, which was posted in response to the state's Stay-At-Home Order, he insisted that he was willing to "take up arms" to ensure that he could eat at the Cheesecake Factory or whatever.
"We don’t want to kill anybody. But are we willing to kill people? Are we willing to lay our lives down," he asked. "We have to say yes. Is that violence? Is that terrorism? No. It’s not terrorism. I’m not trying to strike fear in the hearts of people by saying, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ I’m going to say: If you bring force, we’re going to bring force. If you bring guns, we’re going to bring guns. If you’re armed with this, we’ll be armed with this.”
Several days before he threatened to "bring guns," Smith took part in an armed "Blue Igloo"—yeah, like Boogaloo—demonstration in downtown Raleigh; a News and Observer photograph shows him being escorted off the State Capitol property by police officers. Ashley Smith was arrested at a previous anti-lockdown protest at the Capitol building, an incident that prompted one of the ReOpen NC co-founders to leave the group.
"This movement has taken a turn that we were not in agreement with. Ashley acted on her own yesterday with nearly inciting a riot," Kristen Cochran wrote on Facebook. "Ashley has changed the narrative of this movement and I can no longer go along with it."
Regardless, both Smiths are still trying to make this mask-burning a thing. "This comes down to an issue of rights, and what the constitution guarantees American citizens and it is my right to buy property and destroy it," Ashley told WFMY.
On Wednesday, North Carolina announced an additional 1,002 cases of coronavirus and 849 hospitalizations, a new single-day record. VICE has reached out to ReOpen NC for comment but has not received a response.