Exactly seven weeks before she died of COVID, a pediatric nurse and mom named Dianna Brummel-Rathbun espoused her passionate anti-mask views to a Michigan school board.
“My hubby said many people stood up and applauded after I was done!” Brummel-Rathbun wrote in a Facebook post with video the day after her speech at the Aug. 9 meeting. the next day.
Among those who watched the five-minute clip was her cousin Jackie Verhage Tellier, who joins every respectable medical and scientific authority in believing that masks, as well as vaccines, save lives.
Tellier loved Brummel-Rathbun no less for the political divide between them. “But, Diana was always stubborn and always did things her own way,” Tellier told The Daily Beast.
Tellier figured that in posting the video, Brummel-Rathbun hoped it would receive similar approval from a virtual audience of like-minded people.
“I have been an RN for over 35 years, working steadily through all this time,” she said on the video. “My child will not wear one on a bus, not in a car, not in a class, not in a hall, not for sports... Just because my child will not wear a mask at all. We will not wear them here nor there. We will not wear them anywhere.”
Then, in September, Tellier learned that scientific truth had hit Brummel-Rathbun in the form of a positive test for COVID-19. Tellier messaged her upon learning she was seriously ill.
“I said, ‘I just found out you’re in the hospital with COVID. I hope you’re doing okay,’” Tellier recalled. “I said, ‘I know we’ve had our differences, but you know I love you.’ She wrote back and said, ‘Thanks, hon.’”
Tellier was in a family e-mail chain that provided daily updates about Brumel-Rathbun’s condition.
“She was supposedly getting better,” Tellier recalled. “Her oxygen levels were going up.”
Brummel-Rathbun then took a turn for the worse. She died on Sept. 27. She was 57.
Tellier and her husband have medical conditions that make COVID a particular worry and they decided to attend the funeral virtually.
“We thought the risk was too much,” Tellier said. “We thought all the people going there were not going to be wearing a mask. And I was right.”
As word subsequently spread via posts and tweets that another anti-masker had been felled by the virus, the video that Brummel-Rathbun had posted began teaching the opposite lesson that she had intended due to the stark fact of her death.
Anybody who checked out her Facebook page saw that she was also opposed to vaccine mandates, having posted a guide to securing religious exemptions. Her profile pic remained a ‘no mask’ emblem with the words “Just Say No” and “Student Lives Matter.” An April 13 photo showed Brummel-Rathbun and her husband and 13-year-old son smiling as they stood in helmets and lifejackets, sensible precautions as they prepared to paddle on a body of water behind them.
“Let the adventure begin!” Brummel-Rathbun wrote.
For want of what were only sensible precautions while navigating a pandemic, the happy photo from six months ago is now heart wrenching to Tellier and all who loved Brummel-Rathbun.
“Her husband and son are alone,” Tellier said.
And that made it all the more disturbing when Tellier saw a video of another anti-masker addressing a Michigan school board. This one was of Marlena Pavlos-Hackney from Tellier’s hometown of Holland on Oct. 18.
“I recognize you, right?” a member of the Zeeland School District Board said when Pavlos-Hackney stepped up to speak.
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t,” she replied. “I’m here to defend all the students.”
Pavlos-Hackney had received considerable media attention in March of last year, when she became the first Michigan restaurant owner to be jailed for failing to obey COVID restrictions. She served five days in the Ingham County jail and her eatery was ordered closed.
She had a completely fabricated warning posted in the window of Marlena’s Pizzeria and Bistro:
“Notice to all government officials. You are in violation of your oath of office by trespassing unlawfully on the property of this business establishment and committing an act of domestic terrorism under Section 802 of the Patriot Act [...] You are no longer protected under judicial immunity and are now subject to being arrested and also sued in your private capacity.”
On Sept. 2, the court gave her permission to reopen. She actually did so on Sept. 12.
“We fight for freedom!” she exclaimed to the press.
She does not have a child in the Zeeland School District and when she appeared before board five weeks later, it was not as a parent, but as a kind of self-appointed advocate. She informed the board that she had sought to have the sheriff’s office intervene to prevent any child from being required to wear a mask.
“They tell me they are not willing to get involved in all this bizarre nonsense,” she said. “They tell me that I have to call an attorney, which I am willing to do... And I will file a lawsuit against every one of you. So please respect all the children’s rights.”
She then suggested she might enlist help from a body that rings an alarm bell in that state.
“Michigan militia,” she said. “They will be in school to make sure constitutional protected rights will be defended.”
As reported by The Daily Beast, when she was jail in 2021, she was initially represented in court by a self-described “constitutional lawyer” with militia connections named Rick Martin, who was held in contempt when it turned out he was not actually an attorney. Fourteen Michigan militia members were arrested last year for allegedly conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
When contacted by The Daily Beast on Saturday, Pavlos-Hackney denied that she had said she might enlist the militia to address the mask issue in the schools.
“That’s false information,” she insisted.
She then modified her denial, saying she was not calling for armed militia members to intervene.
“I know they can’t come with guns into school and church,” she said.
On seeing Marlena Pavlos-Hackney’s school board video, Tellier was prompted to message her what she later described as “a warning.”
“Marlena, my cousin’s speech to the Lowell school board was anti mask and anti vaccine. She ended up in the ICU with COVID and died in October,” she wrote. “Please talk to your doctor about getting a vaccine and ask them about masking. You don’t want to become another statistic in this Republican death cult.”
Tellier was asked what she thinks is driving such unreasoning opposition to masks even as COVID has killed more than 23,000 in Michigan, more than 735,000 nationwide. She replied as someone who loves her cousin no less and still grieves her loss.
“It’s a twisted, destroyed view of liberty, that’s what it is,” she said. “It’s like the dumbing down of America.”