A fake 'agency' behind an anti-mask confrontation in a grocery store was also part of a virus misinformation campaign on Facebook

tporter@businessinsider.com (Tom Porter)
·3 min read
anti mask agency supermarket tiktok
  • A video of a woman in a California supermarket claiming to be from the "Freedom to Breathe Agency" was widely shared over the weekend.

  • It shows her telling a store employee that she is breaking the law by trying to enforce mask-wearing in store.

  • In fact, wearing a mask in stores is compulsory under California public health rules.

  • The Freedom to Breathe Agency is not a government agency, and has been warned by the real US government after distributing fake exemption cards marked with the Department of Justice seal.

  • An associated Facebook page — Unmasking America —  was also shut down after spreading coronavirus-related misinformation.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A video being widely shared on social media has renewed attention on a group that falsely presents itself as a government agency fighting against compulsory mask-wearing. 

In the video filmed in a California grocery store a woman, Lenka Koloma, says she is from the "Freedom to Breathe Agency." Koloma founded the group.

She tells a store worker that she could be sued for enforcing mask rules. Koloma also handed her papers, which, according to BuzzFeed News, claimed that she could be sent to prison.

The group has no affiliation with any state or federal authority, and has been warned by the Department of Justice to stop mis-using its seal.

It has also been censured as part of a Facebook crackdown on coronavirus misinformation, linked to fake cards marked "FACE MASK EXEMPT" and said to be issued by the agency.

In a statement to Business Insider, Koloma denied that the Freedom to Breathe Agency has claimed to be part of the US government.

In July the Department of Justice (DoJ) denied any affiliation with the group after imagery emerged of the cards, which feature the department's seal.

"These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department," said the DoJ in a statement to NPR.

The cards threatened business owners requiring patrons to wear masks with a referral to the DoJ, and potential fines of $150,000.

Pictures of the exemption cards were being linked to widely in a Facebook group called Unmasking America, reported The Verge in July.

The page was subsequently banned from the site for spreading coronavirus misinformation. 

One poster in the group reportedly advised others to "print it, laminate it and use it. The number is legit."

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Business insider that the group's page had been removed for violating  "harmful misinformation policies relating to coronavirus, amongst other violations."

The New York Times previously reported that Koloma had been selling the cards via the Shopify platform.

She describes herself on her webpage as an "entrepreneur, motivational speaker, transformation expert and researcher in the field of biology, nutritional science, science of life, neuroscience and quantum physics."

In a statement to Business Insider, she confirmed she was the woman in the video confronting the grocery store worker. 

"We were only educating her and advocating for her to make her realize that her employer is putting her into harm's way," she said of her confrontation with the grocery store worker, alleging that the store's attempt to enforce mask wearing rules was illegal. 

"We NEVER said nor pretended to be with any US federal government agency. Those are false statement," she said of the incident.

"We clearly stated that we are with FTBA, Freedom To Breathe Agency, from the very beginning of our interaction. I explained that FTBA is We The People organization created to ensure our God given rights are protected under the Constitution of the United States of America."

She described the Facebook ban as "clearly violating The First Amendment of our constitutional rights for freedom of speech."

Read the original article on Insider