Montana’s Face-Off Over Face Masks

IIn the early days of the pandemic, a white-clad doctor from Kalispell, Mont., Stood on a podium warning grim warnings of the death rate from Covid-19.

Besides Dr. Annie Bukacek called it the “so-called death rate”.

“Because of inaccurate, incomplete data, fear mongers terrorize people into giving up cherished freedoms,” said Bukacek, a pink stethoscope dangling from under her double-stranded pearl necklace, in a YouTube video that has been viewed 870,000 times.

Looking back at November at a County Health Board meeting in Ravalli County, about 135 miles south. In a scene reminiscent of prehistoric times, people packed the room on folding chairs just a few inches apart, faceless, and sometimes shouted objections to masks and other possible restrictions (“Freedom! Freedom!”), Regardless on the flying microbes.

In early December, this time at the copper-domed Montana State Capitol in Helena, a legislative committee met to set the rules for the meeting, which begins in January. In the ornate chamber dominated by Charles Russell’s nearly 12 by 25 foot painting Lewis and Clark meet Indians in Ross’ HoleRepublican lawmakers – most exposed – hugged, shook hands, and slapped their backs.

When a masked Democratic representative, Sharon Stewart Peregoy, spoke emotionally about Covid-19’s toll in her Crow Indian Reservation District, her GOP colleague Barry Usher – exposed – delivered a verbal blow. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a waste of my afternoon. I could try to survive my business by doing it. Instead, I have to be up here and listen to you cry.”

The same debate rages across the country when people violate government-issued guidelines and advice, often knowing that they will not be enforced, even as the number of cases increases and health professionals seek help.

A version of “We Are Not the Masked Police” has been voiced by law enforcement, state and local governments and agencies in locations from South Dakota to Michigan to Florida where Governor Ron DeSantis recently extended a ban on penalties and fines for failing to comply Mask requirements.

When Republican governor of Idaho, Brad Little, put new restrictions on in October, lieutenant governor of the state Janice McGeachin backed off and brandished a Bible and a gun in an ad sponsored by a group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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