Ohio AG defends letter warning 'woke' masked anti-Israel protesters they face prison time: 'We have a society'

Ohio’s Republican Attorney General is pushing back against critics after warning that anti-Israel protesters wearing masks are facing potential prison time due to state law and XXX

“The First Amendment protects you and saying whatever it is you have to say. Even hateful things are protected by the First Amendment,” Ohio AG Dave Yost told Fox News Digital this week. The First Amendment, though, was always designed to be a shield against the government. It’s not a sword against your fellow students and they have rights too. Your First Amendment rights are limited by their right to be able to go to school, use the library, get the value of their education and the tuition that they paid for.”

In a letter sent on Monday, Yost warned university presidents of a historic state law that could mean masked anti-Israel demonstrators on college campuses could face felony charges. 

“The law is an old law,” Yost told Fox News Digital. “It goes back to the 20th century, and it was originally designed to make sure that people like Ku Klux Klan were held accountable, that, of course, the reason that the Ku Klux Klan wore hoods and masks over their faces is so that they couldn’t be identified because they were committing crimes. So the General Assembly in Ohio said, okay, you can wear a mask, you can wear a hood, that’s fine. But if you commit a crime with two or more other people, while you are masking yourself, we’re going to see that as a heightened kind of crime, a worse kind of thing, because you’re consciously doing this and trying to hide your identity because you know you’re doing something wrong.”


Yost protester

Anti-Israel protester, Ohio AG Dave Yost (Getty Images)

In his letter, Yost warned Ohio universities that “violation of this ‘anti-disguise’ law is a fourth-degree felony punishable by between six and 18 months of imprisonment.

“Those guilty may also pay up to $5,000 in fines and spend up to five years on community control. (See Ohio Revised Code 3761.99.) This punishment is significantly greater than misdemeanors that typically follow minor infractions that accompany student protests.”

Students and outside activists have routinely worn face coverings with some blaming the coronavirus and others saying they are afraid of reprisals.

“They’ll tell you that in interviews,” Yost said. “I’ve seen it on numerous reports, they’re afraid of, quote unquote, reprisals. Well, reprisals from what? The university administrations are all in on this woke, anti-Israel, pro-Palestine, rhetoric. They don’t have to worry about being thrown out of school for expressing their views. But reprisals from whom? Well, reprisals from the criminal justice authorities who enforce laws like arson laws like trespassing and that’s exactly what this heightened scrutiny is all about.”


Ohio AG attends CPAC meeting in Maryland

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks at the Conservative Political Action Coalition annual meeting at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, United States on March 04, 2023.  (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Yost’s letter, which he told Fox News Digital was simply a reminder to those who intend to break the law that prison time could come along with that, sparked criticism from some on the left including Ohio Democratic State Sen. Bill DeMora, who issued a press release denouncing Yost as “disgusting” and a “pigheaded, blatant misread of the law.”

“I hope that Dave Yost takes his letter and shoves it where the sun don’t shine!” DeMora wrote.

I think they protest too much,” Yost told Fox News Digital in response to the criticism. “All the letter does is say, hey, don’t become an accidental felon. Ohio has a law here and incidentally it’s not even implicated unless you’re committing a criminal act, another criminal act with two or more people while you’re wearing a mask. I don’t understand how advising somebody about how to be a law abiding citizen, is intimidating or disgusting. I think Bill DeMora protests too much, but then he’s Democratic operative, a member of the DNC Central Committee, and everything’s a political game to him. We have a society here that needs to run according to the rules and to allow freedom to everybody.”

Yost told Fox News Digital he has been reaching out to the Jewish community in his state and recently met with Israel’s deputy counsel to find ways to ensure that Jewish people are adequately protected.

I am concerned about the degeneration of our ability to protect all citizens. We need to protect that right to protest. We need to protect the rights of the other students who are not protesting but are actually trying to study and learn. We need to protect the rights of the communities around the universities. And, the failure to take firm, fair action to enforce the laws that are designed to protect all of us is really concerning. It’s part of the lawlessness starting to sweep the land from things like the border and failure to enforce that to the lawless acts of the Biden administration to usurp Congress and write laws by fiat.”

If he could say one thing to the anti-Israel protesters engaging in violence while wearing masks, Yost said that he would remind them that their heroes from the past didn’t hide their identities.


A protester holds a sign during a march on Columbia University campus in support of a protest encampment supporting Palestinians

A protester holds a sign during a march on Columbia University campus in support of a protest encampment supporting Palestinians. (REUTERS/David Dee Delgado)

I’d tell them your heroes from the 1960s didn’t wear masks,” Yost said. 

“Martin Luther King Jr and John Lewis weren’t in masks when they walked in Selma. Own your expression. Own the dictates of your conscience and don’t break the law.”

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