The Bulletin

Authorities dismiss charge against Richmond woman who wore bandanna near gun rally

By: - February 12, 2020 5:13 pm

Photos and video uploaded to Instagram appear to show part of the runup to the arrest of 21-year-old Mikaela E. Beschler of Richmond for allegedly violating the state’s anti-mask law. (Photo via Instagram)

A felony charge brought against a young Richmond woman who wore a mask near the heavily attended pro-gun rally at the Capitol has been dismissed, according to the woman’s lawyer.

Mikaela Beschler had been charged with violating the state’s anti-mask law after police said she failed to heed warnings to stop covering her face as she stood near the rally in downtown Richmond on Jan. 20.

Beschler’s lawyer, Mackenzie Clements, said in a statement that the charge was dismissed after prosecutors acknowledged “it would have been difficult to prove that Mikaela had criminal intent to conceal her identity.”

“Of course, Mikaela is pleased that the charge was dismissed. She is also grateful that the Richmond Police Department treated her with such dignity and respect throughout the arrest process,” Clements said. “However, had this matter moved forward, we intended to challenge her arrest as well as the constitutionality of the ‘felony mask’ law itself. My position is that nothing was criminal in her behavior that day — wearing a bandanna while peacefully observing and participating in a public gathering.”

Beschler’s case was scheduled to be heard Wednesday. Online court records confirm the case was dismissed.

Virginia law prohibits wearing a mask or other face covering in public places “so as to conceal the identity of the wearer.”

Beschler had said she was wearing the bandanna to keep her face warm. She was the only person charged in connection with the rally, which drew an estimated 22,000 attendees, many of whom were wearing masks while heavily armed.

Clements said she could not speak to why Beschler was arrested when none of the other mask-wearing people were.

“This particular statute seems to lend itself to discriminatory enforcement, and to avoid such disproportionate harms and outcomes, it should be carefully scrutinized to ensure it does not infringe upon other constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of association and due process,” Clements said.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]