As the world watched an insurrectionist mob storm the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, eagle-eyed observers noticed that a handful of frontline rioters wore near-identical lower-face masks depicting skeletal jaws contorted into what writer Talia Lavin calls a “vicious Cheshire grin.”
In the days since that attempted coup, images have surfaced of more Capitol rioters, like alleged Nancy Pelosi laptop thief Riley Williams, wearing the same skull mask in other contexts. (Williams’ attorney, Lori Ulrich, told The Daily Beast that neither she nor her client would comment on this story.) These skeletal grins have also popped up at subsequent pro-Trump state house protests nationwide, and in the avatars of numerous openly far-right individuals on social media platforms like Twitter.
Law enforcement officials, extremism experts, and even some mask wearers say these face coverings amount to “an aesthetic marker for those in the far-right culture,” as Cassie Miller, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, put it in a conversation with The Daily Beast.