Early on Sunday morning, when there were still hundreds of revelers from Saturday’s St. Pete Pride parade on the streets of the EDGE District, masked men in the bed of a pick-up truck hoisted a Nazi swastika flag and hurled slurs at passers-by; St. Pete Police say they’re looking into the incident but are unlikely to press charges.
Here’s the story from one witness, who asked WMNF News to not use her name because she does not want to become a target of neo-Nazi violence.
A Florida law forbids people from wearing masks in public was modified to only apply when intimidation, threats or other conditions apply. St. Pete Police Lieutenant Markus Hughes says it’s a matter of balancing freedom of expression with crime and it’s rare to get a conviction based on the mask law.
Hughes says says police noted the Indiana license plate of the truck and their intelligence unit is investigating.
Note: after this story aired, a person using what seems to be a fake name on Facebook (because it’s the same name as a convicted right-wing terrorist) posted a photo of masked men in a pickup truck holding a flag. The person used homophobic language and mocked the people at the Pride event, implying that they had been mistaken about it being a Nazi flag. I showed the photo to our anonymous source and she said the people in the photo were not wearing the same kind of masks she saw and the flag in the photo was not the one she saw in St. Petersburg — “The flag and masks were both black and red. And the flag definitely had a swastika on it.”
Here are the Florida Statutes in question:
876.12 Wearing mask, hood, or other device on public way.—No person or persons over 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood, or device whereby any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter upon, or be or appear upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, highway, or other public way in this state.
876.155 Applicability; ss. 876.12-876.15.—The provisions of ss. 876.12-876.15 apply only if the person was wearing the mask, hood, or other device:
(1) With the intent to deprive any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws or for the purpose of preventing the constituted authorities of this state or any subdivision thereof from, or hindering them in, giving or securing to all persons within this state the equal protection of the laws;
(2) With the intent, by force or threat of force, to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person because of the person’s exercise of any right secured by federal, state, or local law or to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from exercising any right secured by federal, state, or local law;
(3) With the intent to intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass any other person; or
(4) While she or he was engaged in conduct that could reasonably lead to the institution of a civil or criminal proceeding against her or him, with the intent of avoiding identification in such a proceeding.