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“They don’t think about who we go home to” Anti-masking mob storms Ukiah Natural Food Co-op

December 13, 2021 -- What began as an act of civil disobedience in front of a store turned unlawful on Saturday, December 11, when 15 maskless protestors and their children boldly entered The Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op in Ukiah, California, to demonstrate their fury over the need to wear a mask and follow COVID protocol to shop inside the store.* Apparently unsatisfied with the Co-op’s online shopping and curbside pick-up option for those who cannot or will not wear a mask, the maskless protesters began their action in front of the entrance doors to the business, holding signs reading “Fauci is a Facist”, “The Mandate is the Beast”, and “Freedom over Fear”.  
The protest grew unlawful when the group entered the Co-op to purposefully disrupt business. For almost an hour, the angry mob occupied the store. They blocked aisles with their shopping carts so customers could not shop. They allowed and encouraged their children to roam freely through the store opening packages and eating food without paying, they damaged merchandise by filling plastic bags with copious quantities of bulk items which were later abandoned in their carts, and they harassed the staff and customers with fallacies comparing the conditions and policies of the Co-op to Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow era of segregation.
Grey Wolf was working at the Co-op cafe during the protest. He described what took place during his work day. “We were flooded with a group of people who refused to wear masks. They were demanding that we check them out. They gathered in a wall by the cash registers and refused to leave unless we checked them out.” 
The protestors’ tactic is to fill their carts with groceries and inundate the cashiers, who are not permitted to sell items to unmasked individuals. This serves to disrupt business as compliant shoppers are not able to access available cashiers.
Ten phone calls and sixty minutes later, the Ukiah Police Department arrived on scene. The protestors left the business, and got a talking-to from the police. 
When the police left,the protestors cheered for their perceived victory, took a series of group photos holding their signs in front of the store, and took off in their cars. Traumatized, the Co-op staff were left to clean up the mess, discarding a hundred dollars or more of half-eaten food items, and reshelving salvageable merchandise. 
 
Unfortunately, the scene was not unfamiliar to Grey. “This is the second time it’s happened in the last month by the same group of people.”
 Grey, along with other floor staff, had to manage the mob's angry questions. “They were asking questions about what the policies were, what the details were, had any of us read the mandate.They were throwing out comments, calling people Nazis and asking us if we knew anything about the Civil Rights Movement or 1930’s Germany. It was a lot of angry, hateful energy.”
Grey notes that the Co-op employees are community members who have no control over Public Health protocol. “There are a couple of high school students who work as cashiers. We have moms. These are the people who work here.”
Grey wants the protestors to know that the employees, who had to take the abuse and clean up the mess of over 100 dollars’ worth of trashed merchandise, are not responsible for the mask policy. “I fully respect your right to protest peacefully outside,” he said. “But coming inside, disrupting the flow of business, and agitating the workers who do not have control over this rule, is not respectful.”
Sylvia Fogel is another Co-op employee. She explained that the protestors realize that the Co-op will not sell items to unmasked individuals, so the protestors fill carts with food, wait in line to pay, get denied service, and leave the cart and its items behind to be dealt with by store employees. Some of the items had been opened and half-eaten.  As a stocker for the store, Fogel was burdened with cleaning up damaged merchandise and throwing away half-eaten food. “They are very disrespectful when they come in. They say things like, ‘It’s illegal to tell us to wear a mask. You’re discriminating against us.’ It makes me really sad for the people who actually have been discriminated against because it’s not discrimination and you are misrepresenting the term. That is not o.k.” 
Fogel shared how the presence of these unmasked marauders affects her. “I live with my 90-year-old grandma and I worry about her health every day going to work. My household needs my income, so I can’t quit. It scares me when people like this come in. You are putting my Grandma’s life at risk every time!”
Fogel found the behavior of the unmasked children particularly disturbing. “The children were even opening up chip bags and running around the store eating them and puffing up their chests at one of our cashiers. It is so disrespectful. It is scary to me that someone would teach their children that.”
Aubrey Lowther, another Co-op employee who was working as a cashier during the protest, described the impact of the mob. “This is the second time that these folks have come through. When it happens, I think about how I have a partner who is immune compromised and I know a classmate who has lost an immediate member of their family to Covid. I worry that when these folks come in, they don’t think about who we go home to.”
Lowther offered a suggestion to help us move forward as a community. “We all want the same destination. We all want to reach the end of COVID, and be able to be in contact the same way we used to be. But we are not there yet. It’s through our collective efforts, and collectively being as safe as we can and following guidelines, that will let us reach that destination, together.”
 
Audio version of  “They don’t think about who we go home to”  Anti-masking mob storms Ukiah Natural Food Co-op
 
*Reporter Stacey Sheldon was on the scene for much of this event. This is an eyewitness account, in addition to her interviews with employees of the store.

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