Discussions on this blog tend to be conducted in relatively abstract terms. It can be easy to forget the power of particularity–the power of stories–to bring them home.
The article described one of the numerous fights over mask requirements, this particular one in Enid, Oklahoma. It began by focusing on a public meeting, and the discomfort of an Air Force sergeant, Jonathan Waddell, who had moved to Enid with his family seven years before, when he’d retired. He’d thrown himself into the community, and won a seat on the City Council. He supported the mask mandate–unlike the throng of people dressed in red who filled the chamber that night.
He had noticed something was different when he drove up in his truck. The parking lot was full, and people wearing red were getting out of their cars greeting one another, looking a bit like players on a sports team. As the meeting began, he realized that they opposed the mandate. It was almost everybody in the room.
The meeting was unlike any he had ever attended. One woman cried and said wearing a mask made her feel like she did when she was raped at 17. Another read the Lord’s Prayer and said the word “agenda” at the top of the meeting schedule seemed suspicious. A man quoted Patrick Henry and handed out copies of the Constitution.
“The line is being drawn, folks,” said a man in jeans and a red T-shirt. He said the people in the audience “had been shouted down for the last 20 years, and they’re finally here to draw a line, and I think they’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”
People were talking about masks, but Waddell said “it felt like something else.”
That “something else” became depressingly clear as the Times described the woman who had organized the red-shirted attendees. It’s one thing to speculate about the fears and resentments motivating QAnon and “Big Lie” believers and anti-vaccine cultists…but the Times story put a face on those resentments.
Melissa Crabtree is “a home-schooling mother who owns a business selling essential oils and cleaning products.
She said she came to the conclusion that the government was misleading Americans. For whose benefit she could not tell. Maybe drug companies. Maybe politicians. Whatever the case, it made her feel like the people in charge saw her — and the whole country of people like her — as easy to take advantage of.
“I don’t like to be played the fool,” said Ms. Crabtree, who also works as an assistant to a Christian author and speaker. “And I felt like they were counting on us — us being the general population — on being the fool.”
She felt contempt radiating from the other side, a sense that those who disagreed with her felt superior and wanted to humiliate her.
The article went into considerable detail about Crabtree’s unquestioning Evangelical religiosity, including her decision to homeschool her children to protect them from a culture she deplores–from its sexual “perversions” and the left’s “preoccupation with race” and its telling of history.
“Why all of a sudden are we teaching our 5-year-olds to be divided by color?” she said. “They don’t care what color your skin is until you tell them that that 5-year-old’s grandpa was mean 200 years ago.”
Crabtree’s organizing was successful; the mask mandate died. But the schism in Enid hardened.
Mr. Waddell voted for the mask mandate, and the reaction was immediate. The following Sunday, people he had prayed with for years avoided him at church. The greeters, an older couple he knew well, looked the other way when he walked by. Several people left the church altogether because of his association with it, he said.
It wasn’t just Waddell. Ben Ezzell, the city commissioner who introduced the mask mandate got veiled warnings — mostly via email and Facebook. Someone dumped trash on his lawn. At one City Council meeting, “a man shouted that he knew where Mr. Ezzell lived. Another meeting got so tense that police officers insisted on escorting him to his car.”
In February, the Red Shirts swept the local elections, winning three seats on the City Council — including Mr. Waddell’s and Mr. Ezzell’s. During the year, through a series of elections, appointments and City Council votes, they’ve placed four candidates on the school board and another four on the library board.
The article is lengthy, but I strongly encourage you to click through and read it in its entirety. It is eye-opening.
As the reporter noted, what we are seeing–nationally, and not just in Enid– is a deeply disturbing argument about what it means to be an American, and whose version of the country will prevail.