NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Concerned citizens are circulating a petition they mean to present to the sheriff after an extremist group showed up at a school board meeting in hats, masks and sunglasses.

The petition, hosted on and sponsored by a group called “Citizens for Public Safety in New Hanover County” is calling upon the New Hanover County Sheriff to enforce a North Carolina statute that was put into place to combat public gatherings by the KKK in response to masked Proud Boys showing up at a school board meeting in New Hanover County while the school board voted to change their policy on transgender student-athletes.

The petition begins, “We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the NHC Board of Commissioners, NHC Board of Education, and Wilmington City Council adopt the following resolution for public safety at public meetings and on public property, which would clarify expectations for enforcement of an existing state statute that forbids individuals from concealing their identity on public property in North Carolina.”

The law referenced was adopted in 1953 and has never been repealed, according to a document the New Hanover County District Attorney shared with the sheriff, but it was adjusted to make an exception for public masking for the sake of public health during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“North Carolina General Statute § 14-12.8, which prohibits the wearing on public property of any mask whereby the person is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, has never been repealed since its enactment in 1953 and is still in full effect. The Legislature in the spring of 2020 did codify an exception for when the person is wearing a mask for the purpose of physical health; however, as in every situation where the crime charged requires proof of a particular state of mind—and that would, of course, include nearly every crime that is currently the law in the State of North Carolina—the proof for that state of mind is the “totality of the circumstances.” It is not enough that the person may claim to be wearing a mask for physical health if the surrounding circumstances belie that claim and make clear that the purpose is—for example—to conceal identity or to intimidate others,” District Attorney Benjamin David writes in a letter obtained by WWAY3.

StarNewsOnline reports that the school board meeting in which the amendment that forces New Hanover County school children to only play sports that match with the sex listed on their birth certificate, regardless of gender, was “contentious” and “unruly.” The measure passed 4-3. Students and LGBTQ community members expressed their concerns that it would open the door to discrimination against transgender and other LGBTQ students.

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Knapp

The Proud Boys are defined by the SPLC and the ADL as a right-wing extremist group, more specifically a “western Chauvinist” group that is “primarily misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration.”

The Cape Fear Proud Boys, who appeared at the New Hanover County School Board meeting in January that sparked the petition, have appeared or threatened to appear at multiple drag events across central and eastern North Carolina.

Several high-ranking members of the Proud Boy organization are on trial for seditious conspiracy for their actions during the January 6 insurrection at the United States capitol building. Charles Donohoe, described as a “high-ranking” Proud Boy from Kernersville, is expected to testify and has already been found guilty on multiple counts.