- Lucas Wall is in a legal battle with the Biden administration over mask mandates for travelers.
- Dozens of anti-maskers have joined him to argue that the mandates are unconstitutional.
- The administration has rebuked him. JetBlue has said he’s “no longer welcome to fly” with it.
A few months after federal mask mandates for US travelers went into effect, a frequent flier named Lucas Wall walked up to a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Orlando International Airport without a mask.
Moments earlier, Wall had pressed record on a video that he would later file as an exhibit in a pair of lawsuits against the Biden administration and seven US airlines. The video began with a shot of his COVID-19 vaccination card. He told the camera that it had been about three weeks since he was considered fully vaccinated. He held up a boarding pass for a 10 a.m. Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale.
“I am not traveling to another state today. Thus, the federal government has no jurisdiction to force me to cover my face,” he said before approaching the checkpoint.
A TSA agent pulled a mask out of a box. “To get in, you need a mask,” the agent said. Wall declined. He said he was already vaccinated. The agent called for backup.
For the next hour or so, Wall spoke with TSA and airport officials, along with Southwest staff members. They inspected his boarding pass and travel documents. They asked him whether he’d filed for a medical exemption. Nobody raised their voice; the resulting videos didn’t feature the yelling, screaming, or kicking that has become common on planes during the pandemic. Wall was laying the groundwork for his legal arguments.
The incident at the TSA booth on that Wednesday in June was the beginning of a months-long crusade in which Wall has filed thousands of pages of legal arguments and exhibits in federal court in Orlando. In July, Wall tried to take his argument directly to the Supreme Court. In August, the Biden administration filed a blistering response that amounted to its most robust legal defense of its mask mandate for travelers so far.
This month, 26 states sued the administration over another mandate — a vaccination requirement for large businesses — using arguments that were very similar to Wall’s. The states also argued that President Joe Biden did not have a constitutional grounding to require pandemic safety measures for most Americans.
Surveys have suggested that a majority of Americans favor wearing masks as a safety measure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization both say that wearing masks helps stop the spread of COVID-19.
Wall’s lawsuits have attracted vocal promoters and detractors. Some have sent him emails or texts — a few of which he shared with Insider — accusing him of not taking the pandemic seriously. At least one email referred to him as an “inconsiderate piece of shit.”
“Sometimes the messages are just so vile that I just block the person and don’t even bother responding,” Wall said in a recent phone call from Florida. “If anything, they give me more motivation, because I know how wrong they are and I want to prove it to them by winning.”
Stuck ‘at Mom’s’ in Florida
Early this year, Wall flew from Washington, DC, where he lives, down to Florida to visit his mom, Lorraine Wall, who lives in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community. He’d been visiting regularly during the pandemic, making sure she was OK.
He’d planned to fly back after he was fully vaccinated. But while he was there, Biden signed an executive order to mandate masks for travelers. The CDC and the TSA followed with federal mandates. Airlines also put in place their own requirements.
Wall has generalized anxiety disorder, medical documents filed alongside his lawsuits say; he says it prevents him from wearing a mask. Wall, who has made it a goal to travel to every country and territory in the world — he’s also been to every state, state capitol building, and national park — said he was grounded without an exemption from the carriers.
In a series of phone conversations over the past few months, Wall told Insider about his battle against the government and airlines. He said he didn’t have much to do at The Villages, a retirement community with 130,000 residents, but he was busy working on his lawsuits anyway. “Yeah, still at Mom’s,” he would say each time we spoke. But he was always cheerful about it.
“He’s good company,” Lorraine Wall said in an interview. “And he does a certain amount of chores.”
Lucas Wall credits his mother with his longtime love of travel. She retired from an airline, and they’ve seen the world using her travel benefits. She said she was “100%” supportive of his effort to end federal mask mandates for travelers, in part because she doesn’t much like wearing masks either. (“They don’t stay on my ears — they just keep popping off,” she said.) Her son took over a wing of her house and immersed himself in legal studies. He’d pop in for dinner some nights when he wasn’t too busy.
In June, Wall filed two lawsuits in US District Court in Orlando. One was against the government, naming among its defendants Biden and the CDC. The other was against seven US airlines: Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit.
“He’s very persistent,” Wall’s mother said, “and he’s not going to stop until he wins.”
Those filings amounted to about 300 pages packed with dense legalese and citations of other cases and precedent. Growing up in northern Virginia in the ’80s and ’90s, Wall learned about the law from his father, William Wall, a former fighter pilot who became a lawyer. His father served as his attorney on his first case.
“When he was in high school, he had a lawsuit against the school board,” Wall’s mother said a few weeks ago. “I think he may have told you about that.”
In the mid-1990s, Wall sued his high-school principal and other officials after they wouldn’t hand over vote totals of a student election. It was his first big lawsuit against people in power. (He’d later spend three years in a legal battle with Virginia over whether he had to renew his driver’s license.)
He lost the suit against his principal. A local-news clip shot outside the Virginia courthouse showed Wall, in a suit and tie, surrounded by reporters, their microphones jammed in his face.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned in high school has been learning how to deal with defeat,” he told the crowd. He’d later appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, which heard the case but upheld the lower court’s decision.
He’s had a few setbacks with his mask lawsuits, too. Wall has a brother and a sister-in-law in Germany whom he’s looking forward to visiting again. He had a ticket to see them in July, which was the reason for his emergency Supreme Court petition. (Wall listed $US769.89 ($AU1,060) in flight-related costs as part of his argument about “irreparable harm.”) But Justice Clarence Thomas declined to review the petition with the full court.
A growing following
Wall’s lawsuits attracted media attention in part because they were among the first of their kind, but also because he was representing himself. “I’m not a wealthy person, I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to hire an attorney, so that’s why I’ve been working on this on my own,” Wall said when we first spoke on the phone. After stories about his lawsuits were published, he heard from other people who also thought mask mandates were unjust or illegal, he said.
In Chicago, there was Justin Mahwikizi, a driver for ride-hailing services. “I saw some coverage of his lawsuit while I was researching and drafting mine,” Mahwikizi told me. “So I reached out to better understand the federal rules and procedures.” After they spoke, Mahwikizi filed his own lawsuit against the CDC.
Since then, Wall’s anti-mask entourage has grown steadily. In August, more than 30 passengers and flight attendants filed declarations in support of Wall’s lawsuit against the Biden administration. When Wall filed an amended complaint against the airlines in September, he added a dozen new plaintiffs. In October, other members of the group filed petitions in six federal circuit courts, with each filing referencing Wall’s lawsuit.
In an interview last month, Wall told Insider he was preparing a third lawsuit, this time against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Several people who’ve joined him in filing a series of lawsuits and petitions described him to Insider as a leader of sorts.
In Kentucky, Shannon Greer Cila was browsing GoFundMe when she came across Wall’s fundraiser and reached out to him. “He’s a little terse. He’s very focused. He’s very directed,” Cila said in a call recently. But he was hard-working, she said, and she signed on as a co-plaintiff against the airlines.
In Florida, Leonardo McDonnell offered Wall his help after hearing about his lawsuits. “This is good versus evil, and I don’t believe in defeating evil with kindness,” McDonnell told Insider in an email.In Israel, Uriel ben-Mordechai found himself drawn into Wall’s orbit via a Google search for people who felt similarly about mandates for masks, which he called “face diapers.” He and his wife, Adi, donated to Wall’s fundraiser, then joined his airline lawsuit.
“He’s like me — he’s not a lawyer, but he knows the system,” ben-Mordechai said in a call recently. “This guy knows what he’s doing.”
Outside of Wall’s group of co-petitioners and supporters, views were different. On Villages-News.com, a community publication following Wall’s lawsuits, a commenter dubbed Wall a “mommy’s boy.”
“My eleven year-old nephew has a better understanding of the Constitution than you do,” the commenter said. “I feel sorry for your mommy. She must loooove you lots to be embarrassed by your constant public statements.”
People who emailed Wall directly were just as blunt, he said. “People talk about what they do to help others or what they would do for their country but you can’t even wear a mask,” one email he shared with Insider said. “It’s sad and speaks volumes about the type of person you are.”
The Biden administration’s defense
In early October, the Biden administration’s lawyers tried to poke holes in Wall’s complaint. He had bought his plane ticket on May 31, just two days before he planned to fly, they said.
The lawyers said that instead of filling out Southwest’s form to request a medical exemption from the mask mandate, Wall wrote on the form that he thought the request itself was illegal. They said that because he had booked the flight with such short notice, Southwest could not have granted an exemption, and TSA officials acted accordingly.
They said the complaint “is due to be dismissed as a shotgun pleading,” a term for legal filings that are stuffed with facts but have little organization. They’d taken issue with the first 182 pages, or 960 paragraphs, of Wall’s initial 206-page filing, saying they were “replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts.”
As such, it was difficult to say which of those 960 paragraphs related to each of the 23 charges Wall had levied at the government, the lawyers wrote.
“It is not the Court’s responsibility to cobble together portions of the Complaint to create a comprehensible pleading,” they said.
In late October, Wall replied with a 22-point objection, adding 55 pages of arguments. He said he’d filled out Southwest’s “illegal mask-exemption-request form” immediately after booking.
“Even if it were permitted by law, it would have been impossible for me to send in the form any sooner,” Wall wrote.
Wall told the court that his claim was “long and detailed” but that “short and plain” statements of fact made up the 960 paragraphs the government had mentioned. He said his arguments were “simple, concise, and direct.”
A canceled ticket
As Wall continued his legal battle, members of his coalition of anti-maskers began running into difficulties of their own.
In late September, Wall convened a group of 13 fliers who opposed masks for medical reasons. In one day, they filed petitions in six federal circuit courts, with each referencing Wall’s suit. In the weeks that followed, they and Wall began running into issues with the TSA and airlines.
One of the petitioners, Michael Faris, a helicopter technician from Kentucky, booked a flight on United but was denied boarding after he declined to wear a mask, then put one on at the gate, then had “a panic attack and collapse in the jetway,” he said in a court filing. He rebooked with American but found that his boarding pass had been marked “SSSS,” a TSA category meaning “Secondary Security Screening Selection,” which required extensive searching before boarding.
Faris wrote in an emergency petition that he “submitted a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security, TSA’s parent agency, regarding his placement on the terrorist watchlist.”
A few days later, Faris said in a statement that he’d since been removed from the list. The TSA didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Faris last week filed another emergency petition, again asking the court to invalidate the mask mandate. Dept. of Justice lawyers responded by saying that “any harm suffered by [Faris] is plainly outweighed by the need to protect the public from unsafe air operations.” On Friday, three federal circuit judges denied the motion.
A few weeks ago, Wall said in an email to Insider that he’d been barred from flying on JetBlue. He’d finally booked a flight to Washington, DC, and requested a mask waiver from the airline. But his ticket was canceled “with no explanation,” he said. Later, an airline customer-service supervisor told him that the company’s security department had canceled his ticket, Wall said.
“JetBlue’s action banning me from flying because I sued over its unlawful mask policy constitutes illegal retaliation for asserting my rights under the Air Carrier Access Act to be free from discrimination,” Wall said in his email.
He sent similar emails to the media for each person in the group of 13 who’d been removed from a flight or prevented from flying. But behind the scenes, Wall was planning something bigger: a media event that would, he believed, bring further attention to his cause.
A ‘silent & peaceful’ protest
On August 1, a private Facebook group called Americans Against Mask Mandates was created. The group, which said it opposed any government order that “muzzled” people, attracted hundreds of Facebook users.
Weeks before Wall booked his flight from Orlando to Washington, he posted in that group looking for volunteers who wanted to make a statement against the mask mandate through “Operation Freedom to Breathe Flights” and to help launch his lawsuit against Fauci. (A person with access to the group shared the post with Insider.)
The post said Wall was looking for people from around the country to book flights to Washington. On each flight, those volunteers would “remove their mask when the seatbelt sign is turned off and refuse to put it back on,” the post said, adding, “All fliers will be given legal documents to hand to the flight attendants who come around demanding the muzzles be put back on.”
Wall wanted his volunteers to “agree to a SILENT & PEACEFUL” protest, with “no yelling, chanting, arguing with FAs and/or other passengers, etc.,” it said.
JetBlue told Insider that Wall had been barred because of social-media posts that had been shared with the airline, not because of the lawsuit he’d filed against the airlines.
“We continue to comply with the federal mask mandate and offer a process for exemptions in limited cases. The safety of our crewmembers and customers is our top priority,” a spokesperson, Derek Dombrowski, said in an email.
“This customer has publicly announced efforts to recruit and organize other customers to collectively disrupt flights on commercial aircraft heading to Washington, D.C., this month by refusing to wear their masks during flights. It’s for this reason, not his current litigation, that he is no longer welcome to fly JetBlue.”
Wall had planned for the protesters to meet up in the baggage claim at Dulles Airport in Washington for a press conference. Then they’d “all ride maskless” on the subway to the federal courthouse near the Capitol, the post said. He pictured a media event with the plaintiffs going in the courthouse to file while others “yell and chant outside.”
“After we come out with the stamped ‘FILED’ copy of the complaint, we’ll hold another media availability to talk about the lawsuit against Dr. Fauci et al,” he said.
As of mid-November, Wall hadn’t yet filed that complaint.