Old Anti-Mask Law Foils Wall Street Protestors

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LONDON - MARCH 08:  (UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) Actors in character costume arrive at the UK Premiere of "V For Vendetta" at the Empire Leicester Square on March 8, 2006 in London, England. The film is based on the Alan Moore book set in the and is written and co-produced by The Matrix duo Andy and Larry Wachowski.  (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON - MARCH 08: (UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) Actors in character costume arrive at the UK Premiere of "V For Vendetta" at the Empire Leicester Square on March 8, 2006 in London, England. The film is based on the Alan Moore book set in the and is written and co-produced by The Matrix duo Andy and Larry Wachowski. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images) Photo: Dave Hogan/2006 Getty Images

Since the start of the Occupy Wall Street protest on Saturday, at least five people have been cited for violating a little-known New York law that bans masks at gatherings of two or more people unless it's "a masquerade party or like entertainment." Carnival-style fun isn't exactly the point at the financial district demonstrations, albeit exact goals are still pretty undefined. Nonetheless, demonstrators are now "acutely aware" of the obscure statute, which dates back to uprisings in 1845, when the price of wheat dipped:


After [landowner Stephen Van Rensselaer IV] moved to evict tenants, disgruntled farmers disguised themselves as "Indians," dressed in "calico gowns and leather masks" and attacked agents of the landlords. The court papers said the tactics adopted by these rebel groups ranged from "tarring and feathering" to murder, including a sheriff.

Things are calmer down on Wall Street these days, where members of the so-called "hacktivist" collective Anonymous are donning their signature (and accidentally corporate) Guy Fawkes masks (see here and here) and tweeting at one another. One protestor was also charged with "damage to the sidewalk" for writing a Gandhi quote in chalk on the ground.

Rare Charge Is Unmasked [WSJ]