Some men want to watch the world burn, and others just want to lurk in the parking lot of a Massage Envy in full Joker makeup. (Heath Ledger’s Joker, not Jared Leto’s, to be clear.) That’s what 31-year-old Jeremy Putman was doing in the city of Winchester, Virginia over the weekend, when someone called the cops because Putman was waving around a sword while dressed like a famous fictional murder-clown. Police did arrest Putman and charge him with a felony, but it wasn’t the felony you might think. Turns out it’s perfectly legal to openly carry a sword in Virginia, but wearing a mask in public can get you up to five years in jail.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that face paint is not a mask, it’s makeup, let’s dig into what this law, Virginia Code 18.2-422, actually says. Reportedly passed in an attempt to curtail Klan activity in the state, the law makes it illegal for “any person over 16 years of age, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood, or other device, whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered, so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place,” according to the Winchester Police Department. Exceptions for Halloween, theatrical productions, protective face gear, and masks related to medical conditions are already in place, and the state added an exception for balaclavas after a winter cyclist was threatened with jail time back in 2013. But the law has yet to catch up to creepy cosplay dudes, it seems. Putman is currently being held on a $2,000 bond.
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