A maskless woman claiming to be from the ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency’ was filmed falsely informing a grocery store worker in California that she could be prosecuted for telling customers they must wear face masks.
In a now viral video, the woman – since identified as Lenka Koloma – is heard saying she’s at the store on behalf of the bogus agency to make sure ‘People’s constitutional rights, civil and federal laws are not broken.’
The exchange occurred on Friday afternoon in Orange County, when supervisor Liz Chavez, 31, was informed by one of her colleagues that two women were in the store without masks on, in violation of its COVID-19 policy.
Chavez says she approached Koloma and her associate to inform them that ‘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 recounted to Buzzfeed News.
The two women – wielding a clipboard and wearing badges that said ‘FTBA’ – identified themselves as being from the ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency’ and then handed Chavez a piece of paper stating that she could be sued for forcing customers to wear masks.
‘You personally need to take this to your manager because you personally can be sued for this, OK?’ Koloma is heard saying in the video.
‘You are putting yourself into major legal liability — you personally,’ she continued.
According to Chavez, the piece of paper given to her by Koloma stated that she could go to prison for up to five years and could be fined up to $10,000 for ‘telling them to wear a mask if I’m not a doctor.’
After handed Chavez the note, Koloma is seen raising a wry smile towards the camera before the two women – and their cameraman – leave the store.
‘They weren’t there to shop,’ Chavez said. ‘They honestly were probably just waiting for somebody to come up to them and ask them to wear a mask so they could do this.’
The video has since been viewed more than one million times on TikTok and Twitter.
The Freedom to Breathe Agency is not a real government agency. It has no official websites and operates only through a private Facebook group.
Koloma told BuzzFeed News that she and the woman she was with ‘both have medical, health conditions and also religious beliefs that do not allow us to wear a mask.’
Koloma, who identifies herself as FTBA’s founder, however declined to specify what those conditions were when quizzed by the outlet.
She said Chavez can face legal action for enforcing the store’s face mask policy because believes doing so is akin to impersonating a medical doctor. A health order from the state of California, however, has mandated that customers and employees wear masks when around other people.
Koloma also dismissed claims she herself could face legal action for impersonating a state of federal agent.
‘That’s absolutely false because we are a legitimate organization, we introduced ourselves as FTBA, the Freedom to Breathe Agency. There’s nothing illegal or fraudulent,’ she said.
Chavez told Buzzfeed that she thinks Koloma was hoping for a confrontation. She added that despite signs clearly stating a masks must be worn and free masks are available, fights with customers happen almost daily.
‘I just want to say people really need to be nice to these grocery workers, we work our butts off during this pandemic,’ she said. ‘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.’
As for the Freedom To Breathe Agency, this is not the first time the group has drawn national attention.
In June, the FTBA were subject to a warning from the Department of Justice, after they began distributing fraudulent face mask exemption cards.
The cards claimed the holder was permitted to not wear a covering ‘under the Americans with Disability Act’ – a misspelling of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
‘Denying access to your business/organization will be also reported to FTBA for further action,’ the cards said.
The Department of Justice said in a statement that the cards were not issued or endorsed by the government.
‘Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,’ said US Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin in a statement. ‘These cards do not carry the force of law. The “Freedom to Breathe Agency,” or “FTBA,” is not a government agency.’