Winchester Police responded to 911 calls on Friday about a man walking through town with a sword, dressed as the iconic Batman supervillain, the Joker.Winchester is a quiet city in northern Virginia known for its Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, held every year since 1924. But on Friday, people might have mistaken the city for Gotham. Jeremy Putman, 31, was arrested after multiple people called police to report a masked man carrying a sword in public. Since it is legal to carry a sword in Virginia, Putman was charged with “wearing a mask in public,” a felony that carries a five year maximum prison sentence. However, Putman wasn't wearing a mask. He was wearing thick white makeup, lipstick, and eyeshadow, a combination made famous by Heath Ledger's Academy Award winning performance as the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, Police arrested him under the state's mask law. The Commonwealth is one of just 15 states in the country with a mask law on the books. According to Virginia Code 18.2-422,
“It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood, or other device, whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered, so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth, without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing."The law includes exceptions for safety, medical, and holiday masks. However, critics often point out that the statute does not provide exceptions for religious coverings or cold weather accessories, potentially violating the 1st Amendment.
The law was originally passed to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan and their infamous white hoods. While the KKK still exists, they are not the ones now being caught up in this law. In 2015, Marine veteran Seth Christman was arrested in Fairfax County for wearing a Guy Fawkes mask while skateboarding. He was charged with a felony and took his case all the way to court. Ultimately, a jury of his peers cleared Christman of any wrongdoing. It is unclear whether Putman, the sword-wielding Joker wannabe, has retained a lawyer. He is currently being held at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center on a $2,000 bond. While Putman’s outfit certainly scared area residents, he has not been charged with any other crimes. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to take the case forward. If Putman's case goes to trial, the Commonwealth will have to convince a jury that a law designed to outlaw KKK hoods should also apply to heavy makeup.