The new law signed by Reynolds states that leadership at public and accredited nonpublic schools cannot adopt or enforce mask mandates for students, employees or members of the public. It stems from House File 847 that passed in Iowa’s House and Senate along party lines, Republicans for it and Democrats opposed, during the final hours of the 2021 legislative session.
Early on May 20, Reynolds sat at her desk surrounded by clapping supporters as the bill was delivered for her signature. Next to Reynolds, in a video posted on Twitter by Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, stood two women holding signs.
Responding to Grassley’s tweet, Kedron Bardwell, professor and chair of political science at Simpson College, wrote in a May 20 tweet that these two women, Emily Peterson and Kimberly Reicks, are mothers from Ankeny, Iowa, and known QAnon and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists.
Peterson held a sign stating, “Unmask our children. #StoptheAbuse” with a picture of Evi, her daughter, on it. Reicks held a sign stating, “My mask caused a staph infection on my face four times. My body… my choice. Unmask Iowa.” Her sign had a photo of her daughter, Olivia. No evidenceexists that masks cause staph infection or other health problems.
We did a check on Bardwell’s claim and found that Peterson and Reicks attended the Health and Freedom conference held on April 16 and 17 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and posted about their involvement on the Instagram page @freedom_over_umc.
Prominent QAnon sympathizers Michael Flynn, a former national security advisor for former President Trump, attended the conference. Flynn signed Petersons’ poster at the conference and spoke to the audience while holding the poster that showed Reicks’ daughter, Olivia.
The moms posted a video of Flynn’s speech on Instagram. According to a video posted on TikTok by Reicks, the two women also spoke to the crowd about their daughters’ experience in school and their efforts to make masking optional.
PolitiFact Iowa reached out to Bardwell more than a half dozen times via email, phone and social media without response. It also reached out to Pat Garrett, communications director for Reynolds, more than a half dozen times via email and phone, given that Reynolds publicly has promoted getting vaccinated but making vaccinations voluntary. Garrett also declined to respond.
PolitiFact also reached out to Peterson and Reicks for comment. Reicks said she is not with QAnon or another organization. She also said she is not an anti-vaxxer, but an EX-vaxxer. Reicks said masks and vaccines should be a choice and she doesn’t oppose or support the COVID-19 vaccine, but is waiting for “more studies to be done.”
“My children have had their vaccines… they have had complications from some of them, and therefore, we no longer just go ahead and go to the doctor and get everything done,” Reicks said. None of the vaccines was for COVID-19.
Asked directly about being part of QAnon, she said in the interview: “No, I would say I’m not associated with anything except God-driven truth. You want to put me in a category, then I’m in the God category in that I believe in freedom over fear.”
Asked about QAnon’s theories about pedophiles trying to rule, she said: “I don’t say that I would follow it, but I do believe that there are evil people out there that are sex trafficking, and that’s been proven that things like that do happen. If there’s anybody that’s willing to stand up and fight against it, I’m willing to stand behind them because I don’t believe that should be imposed on our children, ever. So, any kind of harm that anybody does to our children, I’d stand behind somebody that wants to fight against that.”
Reicks also shared a link with PolitiFact to a video of her and Peterson becoming the first recipients of Flynn’s “Fearless Fighter for American Values” award.
Peterson did not respond to a request for comment.
A right-wing blog called Steel Truth featured a piece on the mothers, in which Peterson is quoted saying, “All of this was a ‘plandemic’ and it was all part of an agenda. So our children are just the recipients of it and they are the ones suffering from it. We need to listen to the truth. It’s out there, but we need to look for it. We need to find it. And we need to stop listening to the propaganda media.”
In his Twitter thread, Bardwell says Peterson and Reicks had conspiracy theory posts all over their Facebook pages, but PolitiFact was not able to find all the posts mentioned in his thread. Peterson and Reicks share anti-vaccination information and posts like an anti-vaccine meme on various social media platforms. An Instagram account they share shows them at the Health and Freedom Conference and celebrating House File 847. Their private Facebook page called “Freedom Over Fear 2” has 2,600 members.
Reicks also has a TikTok account with more than 7,000 followers, where she identifies as an “EX-Vaxxer.” Reicks has promoted a video claiming Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill and Melinda Gates planned the COVID-19 pandemic and made a video falsely asserting that Richard Grenell, the former nation’s director of national intelligence, is the U.S. president.
After the Iowa bill on volunteering masks was signed, several accounts on Facebook and Twitter shared the same message celebrating Reicks and Peterson, including one user in a Facebook group, Moms Against Masks.
“Meet Emily Peterson and Kimberly Reicks standing tall with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. Emily & Kimberly stood up for all of our children and fought to bring a stop to the mask mandate for children in their state (Iowa). These two are fearless and fought at the local and state level causing GOV Reynolds to sign into Law a No Mask Mandate for our children.”
Because some posts have been deleted or taken down, PolitiFact cannot independently verify every social media claim made in Bardwell’s Twitter thread, but we did find evidence that Peterson and Reicks have supported and spread conspiracy theories, claimed the COVID-19 pandemic was planned, and support QAnon-affiliated people.
Though Reicks said she does not self-identify as anti-vaccine, she has shared anti-vaccine information while saying people should be able to decide on their own whether or not to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Peterson has shared anti-vaccine information publicly via social media.
Reicks said in the interview she does not belong to the QAnon movement, although she is connected with people known for embracing the theories. We acknowledge Reicks’ stated positions on vaccinations and not being part of QAnon but connect enough dots to rate Bardwell’s overall statement to be Mostly True.