Just a day after Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza appeared to call people who follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide face mask mandate “sheep,” he spoke on camera for TV news stations wearing a custom Lewis County Sheriff’s Office face mask and walked back his comments.
“Governor Inslee, in his infinite wisdom has decided after over 100 and some odd days that we should all wear face masks inside and out,” Snaza said through a bullhorn as members of the crowd jeered and booed Tuesday evening. “Here’s what I say, don’t be a sheep.”
The crowd, of whom few were wearing masks, clapped and cheered as Snaza spoke.
Snaza made his statements during an impromptu speech given to a gathering of people at the Bethel Church parking lot south of Chehalis Tuesday afternoon. The group reportedly showed up as a counter-protest to a petition against the often-controversial Uncle Sam sign and because of rumors of a planned protest by Antifa. Many members of the group were armed, and at least one person was seen perched in a tree with a rifle near the sign.
The Uncle Sam billboard off of Interstate 5 in Napavine has historically been controversial, but the controversy was rekindled after two online petitions were started asking for the removal of the sign following weeks of protests against racism around the country.
However, it was Snaza’s remarks about the face mask mandate that generated headlines around the nation, not the billboard.
Since he made the “don’t be a sheep” comment, Snaza has appeared in stories in The Seattle Times, The New York Post, NBC News, The Associated Press, and other news outlets.
In an interview with Seattle’s KOMO 4 News on Wednesday, where Snaza is seen wearing a mask, he backpedaled on his remarks.
“What I meant by ‘don’t be a sheep’ is what I meant is ‘don’t just be a follower.’ Ask questions. You have the right to say ‘why do I have to do this? Why are people going to try and take away our first amendment rights?’ Stand up, fight for yourself and just be the leader that we are looking for in our community,” Snaza told KOMO News.
Snaza did not respond to multiple requests from The Chronicle for an interview. A majority of comments made on The Chronicle’s social media, chronline.com and in letters to the editor since the incident also came to the conclusion that Snaza was speaking out against wearing masks.
Inslee, at a press conference on Wednesday, said he was disappointed by Snaza’s comments.
“I think people who are law abiding, those who are wearing their seat belts because it is the law and it’s safe, those who are wearing face masks because it is both the law and is safe — I just don’t agree with calling those folks somehow barnyard animals,” Inslee said.
Inslee also told KOMO News that he was appreciative of Snaza for clarifying his words on Wednesday.
“Well that’s helpful that the sheriff clarified his intentions if that was not his intention, I think it’s very helpful that he indicated that and I certainly appreciate that,” Inslee told KOMO News.
On Thursday, Snaza’s office released a statement saying they will encourage the public “use all forms of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs).” The press release did not specifically encourage people to wear masks.
“Our goal, as it has been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is to gain compliance through public interaction and education, with any sort of criminal enforcement as a last result,” the press release reads.
However, it did clarify that Washington state Law does not prohibit a person with a concealed handgun permit from wearing a mask while carrying a gun.
Similar press releases have been issued by various law enforcement agencies in Washington, including the Washington State Patrol, which stated it too would be focusing on “education and engagement” as a means to enforce the face mask mandate.
“It is not a mandate for law enforcement to detain, cite or arrest violators but rather an evidence-based and safety-focused directive meant to slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease,” the WSP press release reads.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday, Bethel Church said that no one involved with the gathering had asked permission to use their property.
“On Tuesday morning our staff was informed of rumors circulating on social media involving a possible gathering of armed civilians claiming to use the Bethel Church parking lot as a meeting point,” the statement reads. “This caused enough concern for us to close our office and the Bethel Kids Learning Center out of caution and care for our families and staff.”
The statement goes on to say, “We stand with hope and want to serve our community and lead others to do the same.”