It’s often said the most dangerous place in America is the space between Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and a TV camera, so when a story broke nationally over the weekend – and went viral — about an OC woman, who identified herself as a member of the “Freedom to Breathe Agency (FTBA), telling a health store clerk she could be fined and jailed for insisting customers where a facemask inside the store, I’m surprised Spitzer hasn’t yet launched any sort of investigation.
He hasn’t. In spite of international news coverage of this event in OC, Spitzer’s office doesn’t know. And hasn’t acted.
Stories broke in The Hill, BuzzFeed and a number of blogs and legal news sites over Lenka Koloma’s confrontation with store manager Liz Chavez (the store isn’t identified anywhere) where Koloma gives Chavez a document from the FTBA warning about jail tie and./or lawsuits where she’s personally liable.
Now FTBA is not a federal or state agency; they have issued bogus “I don’t have to wear a mask” cards for distribution to those who refuse to wear any facial covering to enter any business in an effort to prevent COVID-19 infections. And according to one legal blog, Koloma may have broken federal law.
From the blog Law and Crime, this:
A viral video of people purporting to be affiliated with the so-called “Freedom to Breathe Agency” (FTBA) has been viewed several million times since being cross-posted from TikTok to Twitter on Friday.
“We are with FTBA, the Freedom to Breathe Agency,” a woman wearing a white baseball cap and sunglasses tells a grocery store worker in Laguna Niguel, California, “Making sure that people’s constitutional rights–civil and federal laws–are not broken. Okay? And so you, personally, need to take this to your manager. Because you, personally, can be sued for this, okay?”
The worker responds askance: “I’m just following the store policy about masks.”
The woman pretending to be a federal agent has since been identified as “detox” maven and spiritualist Lenka Koloma, in a Change.org petition calling for charges to be filed by the Federal Trade Commission. Koloma was previously reported to be the FTBA’s “founder” by ABC News in late June.
Koloma goes on to discuss the worker’s wages as not worth the effort of (non-existent) legal liability for mask-wearing.
“You are probably paid $15 dollar an hour or $12 an hour okay, but you are putting yourself into major legal liability,” she says as the person recording the incident audibly expresses their disdain for her wage-shaming. “You, personally, okay?”
The worker walks away feigning interest and rolling her eyes.
“This is a crime and these people should be prosecuted,” former Illinois assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti said on Twitter.
Mariotti doesn’t appear to be off-base here.
The law on point here–18 U.S.C. §1912–reads, in full:
Whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
It is presently unclear if any such investigation has been initiated.
“Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina Matthew G.T. Martin said in a statement. “These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”
An archived version of the FTBA’s Facebook page explains their science-like but non-scientific opposition to masks:
Oxygen is No.1 nutrient for every living organism including humans. Wearing a mask is an unhealthy obstruction of oxygen flow that can lead to hypoxemia and hypoxia, can permanently damage the brain, lungs, heart and about any organ. We must protect our birth right to breathe. This is NOT negotiable. FTBA is an agency designed to stop face mask orders from spreading nationwide and globally.
The FTBA’s attempted biology lesson is apparently made in service of the often-repeated right-wing myth that face masks lower oxygen levels when worn. That claim, while frequently repeated by conservative activists, is decidedly not true.
Once the video went viral on TikTok, garnering more than one 1.2 million views, Koloma took to her Instagram account to address her “haters.” Here’s what she wrote:
Message to all the haters that stormed my IG account today: “Thank you. Thank you for showing your ignorance to what the United States of America stands for. Our republic was built on promises of freedom and personal liberty. I have lived in communism where the government dictates what you can and cannot do. You have no idea or reference. If you want to wear a face mask please feel free to do so. Just please allow others to make their own educated decision. If you cannot see through all the lies and corruption you are lost and asleep. For the rest of us, the true patriots, our fight goes on and you only bring the needed attention to our cause. So, thank you. Just remember that hate and anger will never bring you an inner peace. We feel for you and see that you are hurting for which we send tons of love and healing light your way because that’s who we are. Namaste”
In the BuzzFeed story, Koloma denied impersonating a state or federal agency.