The Mask Revolt Is Just the Start of America's New 'Age of Defiance'

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Some don’t believe America is an “exceptional” nation. But where else in the world will you find people openly defying government orders that they are told are issued to keep them safe?


And it’s not just ordinary citizens defying the orders. In Texas — and many other states — county sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies are refusing to carry out orders to wear a mask issued by the governor.


Police officials in at least nine counties — including Denton, Houston, Montgomery, Gillespie, Upshur, Kerr, Gregg, Nacogdoches and Panola — said they will not impose the ruling with verbal or written citations. Some counties cited staffing issues, while others said the language in the order makes it impossible to police.

Exactly. Are police to be forced to respond to every call involving a maskless citizen? It’s nuts.

And Americans have had enough.


On June 19, the mayor of Cottonwood, Arizona, unilaterally ordered city residents to wear face masks in public places. A week later, my family went downtown to grab some lunch at a favorite barbecue joint. The proclamation might as well have never been issued; we were among the very few people wearing masks on the street or in the stores.

The residents of Cottonwood aren’t alone; compliance with orders from on-high is losing popularity across the country. One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s legacies may well be an overwhelming public fatigue with being told what to do.

What seems to work better than mayors and governors firing off executive orders, ordering people around as if they were children, is the polite approach.


A few days later I watched a woman stop in front of a sign posted in front of the local Safeway. She reached into her purse, pulled out a mask, and then entered the supermarket with her face covered as requested. As I watched, a steady stream of people mostly did the same. Asking nicely proved more effective than government commands at getting people to don masks.

But defiance is like a contagion and the more people resist orders from on high, the more some feel emboldened to follow their example.

“Frustrated small-business owners have turned to heavily armed, militia-style protesters … to serve as reopening security squads” to deter government officials from enforcing closure orders, The New York Times reported in mid-May. Disobedience morphed into open rebellion as people chafed against draconian commands and the resulting dwindling bank accounts.

It isn’t only a matter of dollars and cents, either. In New York City, parents sick of confinement at home and unable to legally let their children blow off steam in playgrounds “cut the locks and chains on gates that had kept them closed for months,” according to the New York Daily News.

Beaches in California, bars in Texas, slots houses in Illinois — open defiance of government edicts is spreading. There are no charismatic leaders urging people to disobey. It is individuals making individual decisions about what’s best for them and their families who are driving the defiance.


As exemplified by the mask-wearers I saw entering Safeway, people are capable of responding on their own to requests and to personal health concerns. Analysis of cellphone data shows that Americans not only resumed moving around well before lockdown orders were lifted, they had also curtailed their movements before being told to do so. Once again, asking nicely may work better than issuing orders.

Of course, voluntary curtailment of economic and social activity has costs, too. But costs that result from individual decisions are unlikely to spark the resentment and rebellion that we get in response to mandates.

So what happens when all the lockdowns end and the U.S. is more or less fully reopened? I think that local, state, and national leaders are going to have to adjust their attitudes about mandates and executive orders. These things depend on ordinary people bowing to the supposed superior wisdom of authorities and following orders.

That’s not going to happen now. People are going to have to be shown why they have to follow this or that command. And then, they will decide whether to obey or not.

At the very least, it should make for a more responsible citizenry.


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