- A pro-mask father in Tennessee was harassed and threatened after a heated school board meeting this week.
- Michael Miller told Insider he was concerned for his safety as a large crowd of anti-maskers swarmed his car.
- “As I pulled away, my thought was to get out of there and make sure no one was following me,” he said.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A father of two young children in Franklin, Tennessee, was screamed at, threatened, and swarmed by a crowd of anti-maskers after a school board meeting that turned volatile this week.
“I was terrified,” Michael Miller told Insider. “They were running at me…calling me horrific names.”
The emergency school board meeting erupted into chaos after the Williamson County Board of Education approved a temporary mask mandate for elementary-school students and staff on Tuesday night.
A video from the scene shows a swarm of anti-maskers angrily confronting pro-mask parents in the parking lot as they chanted “will not comply” and “no more masks.”
-Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) August 11, 2021
While blocking Miller’s car from being able to leave the parking lot, anti-maskers hurled expletives and threats at him, the video shows.
“We know who you are,” one man yelled at Miller. “You can leave freely, but we will find you.” Another man warned, “You better watch out.”
Miller, who told Insider he was legitimately concerned for his safety given the size of the crowd, said he went into “flight mode” as he tried to evade the horde.
“As I pulled away, my thought was to get out of there and make sure no one was following me,” he said.
The next day, Miller said his fear from the previous night had begun to dissipate.
Then, someone sent him the video.
“I had no idea how bad it was,” he said. “I’m traumatized every time I see it.”
The fiasco is one of the latest examples of a troubling new trend of school board meetings erupting as passionate parents debate the merits of proven COVID-19 mitigation methods like masks and vaccines.
Miller, a data analyst in the healthcare industry, said he and his wife have been “in a world of panic” over their two children since the school year started. Both of his kids are under 12, and thus, ineligible to be vaccinated.
As the new school year began in Williamson County, Miller said mask-wearing was optional among students in the district, leading to alarmingly low masking rates among kids. But an immediate uptick in cases among students in the first few days of school prompted the school board to hold an emergency session to discuss amendments to the district’s COVID-19 policies.
Miller told Insider he decided to attend the meeting to share facts about masking and represent parents in the district who didn’t feel safe attending the meeting because of the surge of COVID-19 in the area.
“I felt I had to do more than just be a keyboard warrior,” he said.
When it became clear the board would vote in favor of a temporary mask mandate among elementary-school students and staff, Miller said about 100 anti-maskers marched out of the room, chanting and threatening board members directly.
“The look of abject fear on the face of some board members – I can’t describe it,” he said. “I felt like I needed to stay in solidarity.”
As the meeting continued, Miller said the chanting from outside began growing louder. After seeing a sheriff’s deputy enter the room donned in a bulletproof vest, Miller decided it was time to leave. On his way out the door, he asked the sheriff for a police escort to his car.
When he exited the building with an officer by his side, he emerged directly into an angry crowd.
“It was immediate,” he said. “They saw the mask on my face, so it was a dead giveaway,”
As he tried to make his way through the crowd to leave, Miller said he was thinking solely about getting home to his family, even as protesters hurled F-bombs and threats at him.
The school board released a statement the following day:
“Our parents are passionate about their children’s education, and that’s one of the reasons for our district’s success over the years. With that said, there’s no excuse for incivility. We serve more than 40,000 students and employ more than 5,000 staff members. Our families and staff represent a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, and it is important in our district that all families and staff have the opportunity to be represented and respected. We will continue to work toward making sure all voices are heard and that all families, staff and community members feel safe sharing their opinions.”
Miller said he’s still living in concern and disbelief three days after the incident.
“This is a school board meeting. I figured there might be some heated discourse inside the room,” he said. “But it was amplified times one million outside in that parking lot.”