A California woman claiming to be from a group called the “Freedom to Breathe Agency” was seen in a viral video warning a grocery store employee in Orange County that she could face legal consequences after reportedly being told masks were required in the store.
The worker and store supervisor, Liz Chavez, told BuzzFeed News the confrontation occurred shortly after she approached the woman, who was seen along with another woman in the video donning “FTBA” badges and hats, about the business’s mask policy on Thursday.
"I went up to them like, 'Hey, in order to be inside the store you’re required to wear a mask.' They told me, 'No, we’re not required to wear a mask,'" Chavez recalled to the outlet.
In footage of the moment that has racked up millions of views on TikTok and Twitter, the women could be seen initially handing Chavez papers and informing her of their group, which they claimed to be a "We the People" organization.
These people are attempting to intimidate essential workers by pretending to work for a bogus federal agency. pic.twitter.com/fah5T2YGi6— Kalhan (@KalhanR) August 7, 2020
"So, we are with FTBA, the Freedom to Breathe Agency. We are a 'We the People' organization making sure that people’s constitutional rights, civil and federal laws are not broken," one woman, identified by BuzzFeed News as Lenka Koloma, the founder of the group, tells Chavez in the clip.
“And so you personally need to take this to your manager because you personally can be sued for this OK?” she continues while pointing at piece of paper she handed to Chavez.
"I’m just following my store policy," Chavez starts to say before the woman interjects, holding up her hand, saying, "I am telling you. You are probably paid $15 an hour or $12 an hour, OK?"
“OK,” Chavez responds.
“But you are putting yourself into major legal liability, you personally,” Koloma continues.
Chavez told BuzzFeed News the paper Koloma handed her “was basically telling me I could go to prison for up to 3 to 5 years and I could get fined up to 10,000 dollars for telling them to wear a mask if I’m not a doctor.”
She added that she thinks the women “weren’t there to shop” and “were probably just waiting for somebody to come up to them and ask them to wear a mask so they could do this.”
The moment comes more than a month after the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a warning about fraudulent “face mask exempt” cards online that featured the agency’s seal along with a symbol for the “FTBA.”
The card stated, “I am exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public. Wearing a face posses a mental and/or physical risk to me. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my condition to you.”
The card appeared to be referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
At the time, the department warned that such “postings, cards, and flyers were not issued by the Department of Justice and are not endorsed by the Department.”
U.S. Attorney Matthew Martin also cautioned the public in a statement then not to “be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,” saying, “These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”
In interview with BuzzFeed News, Koloma called the Freedom to Breathe Agency a “legitimate organization” and said “there’s nothing illegal or fraudulent.”
She also claimed she and the woman she was seen with in the store don’t wear masks, despite California issuing a statewide mask mandate in June to curb the spread of COVID-19, because both of them have “medical, health conditions and also religious beliefs that do not allow us to wear a mask.” She reportedly would not divulge further details about her condition to BuzzFeed News.
Chavez said she doesn’t know why wearing a mask is “such a big deal” for some customers.
"They just give us all sorts of excuses for why they shouldn’t wear one. ... We have to wear them for out entire shift, they only have to wear them for the 10, 20 minutes they’re in the store,” she said.
“I just want to say people really need to be nice to these grocery workers, we work our butts off during this pandemic. Just give us a little break, it’s just our store policies, we’re following the rules. We don’t need to be attacked every day,” she added to the outlet.