Warning Issued by Yost: Student Protesters May Face Felony Charges under Obscure Anti-Klan Legislation

Yost cautions that student protesters may be at risk of felony charges under a relatively obscure law aimed at combating the Ku Klux Klan.

Law enforcement officers took action on Thursday night, around 10 p.m., to dismantle a Pro-Palestine encampment located on the Ohio State University’s campus, leading to heightened tensions. As a result, 36 individuals were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. This incident occurred on April 25, 2024, according to reports from WSYX.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has faced sharp criticism for the letter he recently sent to the state’s public universities.

The letter cautions that students participating in protests and wearing face coverings may be charged with felonies under a relatively unknown law aimed at discouraging Ku Klux Klan demonstrations. The president of the local NAACP expressed their concern to ABC 6, stating that linking present-day protests to a law initially designed to combat the Klan is deeply disrespectful to the African American community.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently sent a letter to the state’s public universities, offering guidance on the potential application of a law originally intended to discourage KKK demonstrations. Yost suggests that this law could be utilized to bring felony charges against individuals who wear face coverings during protests.

The law, which was passed in October 1953, can be summarized in a single sentence.

It is prohibited for any individual to form a group of two or more people with the intention of committing a misdemeanor, while wearing white caps, masks, or any other disguise.

Yost emphasized in his letter to the universities that the violation of this “anti-disguise” law could lead to a fourth-degree felony charge, along with fines of up to $5,000.

Nana Watson, the president of the Columbus branch of the NAACP, strongly believes that using a law originally intended to combat the violence of the Klan in the 1950s to handle protesters in 2024 is inappropriate and disconnected from reality.

“I find it completely inappropriate. It comes across as insincere and shows a lack of respect towards black individuals,” expressed Watson with concern.

According to a spokesperson from OSU, the university has received the letter and is currently reviewing it.

Earlier this week, Ted Carter, the president of OSU, discussed the letter.

“We will definitely examine it, but for now, we are not actively pursuing any specific course of action,” stated Carter.

During an interview on FOX News, Yost defended the letter by stating, “All the letter does is say, hey, don’t become an accidental felon.” He emphasized that Ohio’s law regarding wearing masks in the commission of criminal acts only applies when two or more people are involved. Yost expressed confusion over why advising individuals to not engage in criminal behavior and instead be law-abiding citizens is considered intimidating or disgusting.

All the individuals who were arrested during recent protests at OSU are currently not being charged with felonies. The university administrators and protesters are now aware of this law, but its potential impact on future demonstrations across college campuses in the state remains uncertain.

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