"Freedom is wasted on people who think coughing on people is freedom."
Author Anand Giridharadas on Friday shared on social media what he called an "end-of-empire" video featuring a compilation of Americans refusing to wear face masks in public places, purposefully coughing on others, and claiming their "freedom" is being trampled by public health guidance urging social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"A misbegotten, warped freedom obsession is killing us," Giridharadas tweeted.
In the video, one woman curses at and tries to hit a store employee after being refused entry for not wearing a face mask; another screams at workers and reaches over a plastic barricade to assault them; a man tells a Costco employee he doesn't have to wear a mask because he "woke up in a free country," and one woman tells a grocery store manager that she can't wear a mask due to a medical condition and that she can't use a delivery service because she wants to buy "private" items.
Several people also cough on and spit at essential employees.
"Freedom is wasted on people who think coughing on people is freedom," Giridharadas said.
The video follows a number of small but well-publicized demonstrations by people calling on state officials to fully reopen the economy and end all guidance urging social distancing and mask-wearing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Many of the anti-quarantine protests are organized and promoted by conservative groups with ties to Trump administration officials, including the Convention of States, whose past supporters include immigration official Ken Cuccinelli and HUD Secretary Ben Carson; and the Michigan Freedom Fund, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has donated to regularly.
Contrary to the message pushed by the demonstrations and the people in the video, the vast majority of Americans support safety measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.
A HuffPost/YouGov survey published this week showed 62% of respondents said wearing a face mask is a matter of public health, not personal preference. More than half of those surveyed said they are currently wearing a mask whenever they are in a public place where they might come into contact with others.
Large majorities of respondents from across the political spectrum reported that they view mask-wearing as "respectful," not a sign of "weakness" or unnecessary fear of the virus.
If President Donald Trump and other right-wing politicians demanding an end to public safety measures have their way, Giridharadas tweeted, images of the vocal minority shown in the video will illustrate the downfall of U.S. society in its current state.
"If we somehow save ourselves and come back, they will be forgotten eventually," he wrote. "But if we continue to decay and fall, these will be studied in history classes in some society saner than ours."