NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A father of two says his "terrifying" encounter with an anti-mask "mob" outside last week's Williamson County School Board meeting left him in fear of retaliation for speaking up on behalf of his children.
Michael Miller, a healthcare professional who believes his children would be better protected by a mask mandate, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that his experience shows how our public discourse has also become a victim of the virus.
What does his experience say about the state of our state and the state of our country?
"I think it epitomizes it, unfortunately," Miller said. "There is a 'you either agree with me or I am going to use pure force against you to make you agree with me.'"
Outside the school board meeting, anti-mask protesters berated healthcare professionals as they headed for their cars after asking for a mask mandate to protect children from COVID.
"We know who you are," one man shouted at Miller. "You can leave freely, but we will find you."
Another chimed in, "You will never be allowed in public again."
"I was yelling at them, 'Please back away. I want to go home, I want to go home. Leave me alone,'" Miller recalled.
Miller said the tone had been set inside the meeting as doctors and nurses were shouted down by an anti-mask crowd.
"I am asking you to implement a temporary mask mandate at least until every student has had the opportunity to be vaccinated against COIVID-19," one doctor said, drawing boos from the crowd.
Miller said, "The tone was tense."
A mask opponent told the board, "You have awakened the ape army, and we will come for you - and the holy spirit is coming with us."
The crowd erupted into cheers.
"They started getting more hostile in their tone and gesturing at the board directly, threatening them directly, gesturing at those of us seated with masks," Miller recalled.
The healthcare professionals were mocked by sports commentator Clay Travis, who has downplayed COVID from the beginning, saying in February 2020: "It's unlikely in my opinion that more than a few hundred will die from the coronavirus in the United States."
While pediatricians, nurses and other healthcare professionals were warning about the need for masks, this is the sports guy who was telling them at that board meeting that he knows more about the subject than they do. pic.twitter.com/OiOUXh7OyN— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) August 19, 2021
Travis turned to the school board crowd, shouting: "Don't let your kids wear masks. Refuse!"
The crowd vigorously applauded in response.
Miller’s wife started texting the father of two to check on him.
"She was worried, like, 'When are you going to leave? Just checking in, are you going to be home in time to put the kids to bed tonight?"
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Were you worried about making it home to the kids?"
"I was absolutely paranoid," he responded. "I had no idea what was waiting for me outside those doors."
Then, one protester -- a nurse who claims there is no pandemic -- got ejected from the meeting.
The anti-mask crowd began chanting and walking out in protest.
"It was deafening in that room and it was scary. It was absolutely scary. It felt like bedlam," Miller said.
"There was at that point now a very large crowd assembled outside the room, and as the doors would open and close you could hear the chanting. It was like the mob was waiting outside for us."
Video shows the moment Miller left the building under police escort.
"They're not on our side," one protester screamed.
Another interjected, "The police are on our side. The police are on our side. Just calm down, calm down."
That second protester quickly turned to Miller, "We know who you are."
Miller remembered, "That was, for me, one of the more terrifying moments that somebody who was asking for peace turned out around and furthered it."
As officers attempted to control the crowd so Miller could drive out of the lot, the healthcare data analyst says he experienced sheer terror.
"I was in pure flight mode. I wanted to get out of there."
We asked, "So you were seriously afraid that someone would follow you?"
"Yeah, it seemed like this crowd knew no bounds, that if I was their enemy, they were going to come after me."
Miller would later learn that one of the men threatening him was the former guitarist for a Christian rock band.
"As one of my friends told me who is a very religious man, I said, "I don't understand, help me understand this.' He said, 'That's no form of Christianity that I know.'"
Miller told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that his family feels hoodwinked. They signed up for in-person learning expecting that the school would follow CDC guidelines, which now call for all students and teachers to be masked.
The Williamson County School Board approved a mandate that has led to thousands of families claiming various exemptions.