At a Sunday rally against masks and vaccines, aspiring Pennsylvania politician Steve Lynch issued an ultimatum to school board members who vote to require masks.
“I’m going in with 20 strong men,” Lynch, the Republican nominee in the upcoming Northampton county executive, told the crowd. “I'm going to speak to the school board and I'm going to give them an option. They can leave or they can be removed. And then after that we’re going to replace them with nine parents and we’re going to vote down the mask mandates that evening. ”
As the school year returns, alongside a surge in COVID-19 cases, school board meetings have become hotspots for a national debate on mask and vaccine requirements. The pressure has seen pro-mask and at least one anti-mask board member resign in frustration. Elsewhere, mask opponents have made clear their intent to force school board members out of office via recall votes, pseudo-legal “overthrows,” or old-fashioned intimidation.
Lynch, a political newcomer who lists himself on LinkedIn as the owner of “Keystone Alternative Medicine And Weight Loss,” is running a Trump-esque campaign to become his county’s next executive. He attended the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and claims to have been contacted by the FBI about the day’s events, but denies any wrongdoing and has not been accused of a crime. (Neither he nor his campaign returned requests for comment on Monday.) Much of his recent campaign in the narrowly Democratic-leaning district has focused on COVID-19 measures—specifically masks in schools.
Lynch’s Sunday speech, at a Harrisburg “Freedom Rally,” appeared to call for the physical removal of school board members. Elsewhere during his speech, he suggested that Donald Trump’s opponents had “weaponized” COVID against the former president and that they should be jailed and/or tried for treason. (The rally was part of an international string of events promoted by a far-right coalition.)
Northampton County executive Lamont McClure, whom Lynch is attempting to unseat, blasted Lynch’s aggressive comments.
“Lynch is an insurrectionist who’s been investigated by the FBI for his activities on January 6,” McClure told The Daily Beast. “I think it is a legitimate concern for the safety of the people of the Northampton Area School Board that we make sure law enforcement is aware.” (Representatives for the school board did not return requests for comment.)
Pennsylvania’s two statewide teacher unions have called for mask requirements, echoing a recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Masking up is essential to keeping in-person learning going all year," Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said earlier this month. "If we're going to be able to keep our schools open for in-person instruction all year, we need to make the right decisions now."
Still, Lynch has spent the past week threatening to unseat the Northampton school board for its recent decision to require protective face masks.
“I'm going after the school boards with masking and much much more. Northampton School board I'm coming for you and so are many other parents,” Lynch wrote on Facebook last week. “You are going to be removed and I'm not going to stop fighting until you're removed. You wannabe tyrants are going to learn real quick who holds the power!”
He has since moved on to promoting a Tuesday demonstration against the school, at a yet-undisclosed location, to minimize counter-protests.
In a Facebook Live video he made while driving on Monday morning, Lynch called for assistance from lawyers and for crowds to remove the school board.
“Depending on how hard they want to dig their heels in, we have to have the legal standing to remove them,” he said in the video. “That’s where the attorneys come in. And this is where the presence of the—we have got to show up at the school board meeting with massive—it’s the same thing I’m calling for when we’re talking about these health care rallies. The numbers are—having the numbers there present, to be there physically makes all the difference in the world because then they realize ‘oh my gosh, this is not going away, this is intolerable, the people won’t tolerate this any longer.’”
At one point in the video, he claimed to support the rights of individual students who wished to wear masks. “If you’re somebody who really believes in this and the fear is so high, well then social distance, just do that,” he said.
Just last Thursday, however, he shared a post urging local parents to tell their children to unmask during school.
“Northampton highschool kids will be banning together and pulling their M's off on the first day!
Tell your Northampton HS kid to join in Let's get this going in all School Districts for Middle and High School kids. Power in numbers,” he wrote, noting elsewhere in the post that “compliance is the problem.”
Although none of the school board officials in Northampton have resigned, others across the country have stepped down in recent weeks, citing a new culture of harassment related to mask debates, the Associated Press reports. Among them are three board members of one Wisconsin district, including a former educator who said his work had become “toxic and impossible to do.” A board member in a Nevada district said a wave of abuse, largely from people who did not even have students enrolled in the district, had left him considering suicide. “I was constantly looking over my shoulder,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
The resignations are not limited to pro-mask board members. In Michigan, a board member resigned after voting against a mask mandate in a 4-3 vote. “It’s coming between friendships,” he said of the debate, according to WLNS6. “It's coming between everything, and I’m done.”
Virginia parents have tried their own tactics against school board members, issuing a petition to recall a Fairfax County school board member who moved to shut down in-person classrooms during the pandemic’s first wave. A judge dismissed their case this month, calling the petition’s allegations untrue.
In Buncombe County, North Carolina, meanwhile, a recent school board meeting turned to chaos when outbursts at a predominantly anti-mask crowd led board members to end the meeting. Mask opponents then tried to “overthrow” the board, signing a piece of paper declaring themselves the district’s new officials.
McClure, Lynch’s opponent, said he’d alerted law enforcement to Lynch’s comments. The remarks, McClure said, were genuinely concerning, but not representative of his county as a whole.
“I think you see the mask debate playing out here the way it is through most of the country,” McClure said. “A minority, but a very vocal minority, opposes the mask mandates. The vast majority approves of mask mandates. But Lynch, who participated in the failed coup on January 6 understands that you have the potential to incite violence. He needs to stop the thuggery now.”