Attention Passengers: We’ve Got a Dweeb Alert

Attention Passengers: We’ve Got a Dweeb Alert
Brandon Straka. (Photo: Stephanie Keith, AP)

This is your captain speaking. Dweeb alert! This is not a drill. Dweeb alert! That’s right, folks, there is a dweeb alert in effect on this aircraft.

American Airlines removed a passenger from a flight from New York to Dallas on Wednesday for refusing to wear a mask under its new mandatory face-covering policy, CNN reported. Unfortunately, that man also happened to be Brandon Straka, the right-wing activist behind the dubious #WalkAway campaign and gutter tier coronavirus pandemic dissident.

The incident happened aboard Flight 1263 from LaGuardia to Dallas/Fort Worth in the early afternoon. The airline has a policy mandating that all passengers wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which may be particularly dangerous in the tightly confined spaces of a plane. The airline told CNN in a statement that shortly after noon, a flight attendant asked Straka to don a mask; he refused the request and deplaned, resulting in it leaving the gate four minutes late at 12:34 p.m. ET.

That’s not all that happened, though. Straka launched a Periscope stream after deplaning, claiming “This is insane. Absolutely insane. We don’t even have a choice anymore.” Straka further claimed on Twitter that the attendant had indicated wearing masks on flights was required by law and that they had improperly asked him whether he had a medical condition, playing up the exchange as an example of liberalism gone amok and himself as the beleaguered conservative.

“I was just irritated by the fact that there wasn’t even a conversation,” Straka told CNN of the conversation. “I said to her, ‘That’s actually not a law.’”

(It’s not a law, but it is in official Federal Aviation Administration “guidelines” and American can and did implement any face-covering policy it wants.)

Notably, and by his own admission, Straka prompted the attendant to ask whether he had a medical condition that would exempt him from wearing a mask. CNN asked Straka whether he did have such a condition; he responded, “I find it difficult and prohibitive to wear a mask, yes.”

At 12:08 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Straka curiously tweeted a “joke” with the punchline that he would refuse to wear a mask on a flight and identify “sanity” as his medical condition. The scheduled takeoff time for Flight 1263 from LaGuardia is 12:30 p.m. ET, meaning he likely would have boarded or been in the process of boarding by that time.

Straka later defended himself against accusations that the “sanity” tweet was a fictionalized version of the exchange between him and the flight attendant by claiming he actually sent it prior to their exchange. That this could also demonstrate prior intent — to stage a stunt, perhaps — apparently avoided the scrutiny of Straka’s one-man brain trust.

It just so happened that a New York Times reporter, Astead W. Herndon, was on board the plane when Straka was removed, apparently to applause from the other passengers. According to Herndon, Straka staged a fit to draw out the whole thing.

Straka’s whole shtick is pretending to be a liberal who left the Democratic Party because it became too “intolerant, inflexible, illogical, hateful, misguided, ill-informed, un-American, hypocritical, menacing, callous, ignorant, narrow-minded and, at times, blatantly fascistic” for his tastes, leading to his rebirth as a fervent Republican and Donald Trump supporter.

The reason he is a public figure at all is that he founded the #WalkAway campaign. Straka is gay, and #WalkAway is supposedly an organised effort to convince liberals, particularly members of other minority groups but especially black people, to join him on a cringeworthy red-pill journey.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the campaign primarily seems to function as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for Republicans that took only off because Straka aggressively promoted it on Twitter to other conservatives with larger followings. Per NBC News, many of the campaign’s videos featuring supposed Democrats leaving to support Trump appears to have become Republicans prior to 2016, in some cases for decades, and there is little effort of it having an impact beyond the right-wing media ecosystem.

Straka has latched on to a number of cause célèbres for the type of Republican that spends an undue amount of time on social media, including characterization of pandemic-control measures like social distancing and face masks as leftist hysteria. In doing so, he’s made hundreds of thousands off the #WalkAway brand, including a GoFundMe page that has raised $US326,000 ($476,449) and merchandising opportunities.

By the way, that merchandise includes #WalkAway-branded face masks.

There is no indication that American Airlines has changed its policy in response to the incident, though it told CNN that Straka was rebooked on a later flight after agreeing to wear a mask. United, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, and JetBlue have all chosen not to walk away from implementing mandatory face covering rules for passengers.