Ohio AG warns masked students protesting against Israel could be charged under anti-KKK law

FILE - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks during an election night watch party, November 8, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
FILE - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks during an election night watch party, November 8, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s top lawyer has advised the state’s public universities that a law written to deter Ku Klux Klan demonstrations could be used to impose felony charges on students who wear face coverings while protesting against Israel amid its war with Hamas in Gaza.

In a letter sent after weeks of pro-Palestinian campus protests around the country, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost advises the presidents of Ohio’s 34 public, four-year universities — which his office represents — to forewarn students about the 1953 law.

“In our society, there are few more significant career-wreckers than a felony charge,” the letter says. “I write to you today to inform your student bodies of an Ohio law that, in the context of some behavior during the recent pro-Palestinian protests, could have that effect.”

The law is contained in a single sentence: “No person shall unite with two or more others to commit a misdemeanor while wearing white caps, masks, or other disguise.” Violating this “anti-disguise” law is punishable by a fourth-degree felony charge, up to $5,000 in fines and five years on community control, Yost writes.

Protesters around the US and the world have increasingly taken steps to remain anonymous by wearing a combination of head and face coverings. Some are religious hijabs or medical masks used to prevent exposure to COVID-19 and other viruses.

Yost, a fourth-term state official who is considering a run for governor in 2026, writes that students should protest “within the bounds of the law,” not commit crimes, not use the First Amendment as “a sword against fellow students,” and “own their advocacy and avoid wearing masks.”

Bethany McCorkle, a spokesperson for Yost’s office, says the letter regarding the “disguise law” is not a response to any specific request for legal advice by the universities.

“The letter was proactive guidance to universities that he is counsel for to make sure no one becomes an unintentional felon,” she says in a text message.

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