Anti-Maskers and the Tragedy of Private Property

A “Right to Shop”?

You’ve probably seen lots of them by now. Videos of people having public meltdowns in private businesses, because they’ve been told to leave the business for not wearing a mask during a time of global pandemic. Sometimes they overturn something on their way out. Sometimes they assault a worker. Sometimes they are arrested. Oftentimes, they yell something about their rights being violated … about their right to shop or their “right to commerce”.

For me, the experience of watching these videos is an exquisite joy. To begin with, I love seeing some of these anti-maskers getting a little of their just desserts. I also love the irony. No doubt, most of these people are politically conservative. And I imagine that many of them are the types who at one time supported the right of business owners to refuse service to LGBT folk or criticized the integration of public facilities as federal overeach. They’re now on the receiving end of some of their own arguments.

They’re also experiencing the harsh reality of the institution of private property.

It will come as no surprise to many people of color and many LGBT people that, in the United States, there is no legally recognized “right to commerce” or “right to shop”. Businesses which are “open to the public” are nevertheless private property, and as such they may exclude anyone for any reason other than certain protected categories—and even that restriction can be circumvented by manufacturing superficial reasons.

That many people believe that they have a right to shop is revealing. For one thing, it highlights how commerce has trumped practically every actual civil right in the public consciousness. For another, it exposes the privilege of a lot of people—middle-class, hetero-/cis-, White people—who have never before had to worry about being excluded from a business before.

In the U.S., such people have enjoyed an ability to move around in public and open-to-the-public spaces, while many others have not. I am one of those multiply-privileged people. For most of my life, I felt free—entitled actually—to go just about anywhere, except someone’s residence and or their yard. And even then, I didn’t have to worry about getting shot just because I was on someone else’s property.

A Fence in the Wilderness

One summer, though, something clicked in my brain while we were visiting relatives in the Rocky Mountains. …


Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post,, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

3 thoughts on “Anti-Maskers and the Tragedy of Private Property

  1. Good article. Yes, random fences in the wildnerness, came across one here on the moors above town, right on the boggiest part of the hilltop on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border. I was like, wtf? Why would you even bother? The amount of energy expended in putting it there must outweight any costs due to lost sheep. Ah yes, a common theme, bloody sheep! George Monbiot’s favourite animal heheh.

    The enclosures still go on. The private rail track owning company has fenced off land anywhere near it’s lines, under the pretext of ensuring no one trespasses onto the railway (which is already bordered by a nearer fence) but in reality just claiming ownership, for no other reason than pure selfishness. They blocked off a nice small piece of woodland locally in the process, taking out another little piece of foraging space.

    Once the collapse comes that’ll be a whole lot metal that can be used for housing repairs for the survivors with hacksaws. Although come to think of it they might make good anti-deer fencing for my vegetable plots once most of the humans are gone. Hmmmm….


  2. Your bias has blinded you to the fraudulent use of “pandemic” to impose control. I don’t know what kind of “anarchist” allies with totalitarians?


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