The June 27 downtown protest against the Harris County order requiring people to wear masks inside businesses almost turned violent when Dr. Steven Hotze knocked a sign out of a pro-masker’s hands, ripped it up, and threw it on the ground.
“I was so shaken up,” says Norman Earle. “I could not believe he just did that.”
About 60 anti-maskers showed up at Market Square Park to protest, as well as a dozen or so attendees who were in favor of the new mask order. Several police officers were also there.
Earle learned about the protest online.
“My friend posted it on Facebook,” he says. “At first we just laughed about it, because it showed a picture of the Statue of Liberty wearing a mask. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided to make a ‘wear a mask’ sign and go down there myself.”
Earle arrived at the park about 15 minutes before the anti-mask speakers started. He sat on a bench holding up his sign, and two other pro-maskers joined him on the bench.
“When Hotze got up to speak,” Earle says, “I moved over to stand behind him because the cameras were all on him.”
Hotze started off by claiming COVID-19 wasn’t a pandemic. “If this was a pandemic, why didn’t all of us get the virus?” The World Health Organization defines a pandemic as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.” Meaning not everyone.
But Hotze isn’t exactly known for his medical acumen. His Hotze Health and Wellness Center mainly sells hormone therapies and vitamin supplements. In a 2005 Houston Press investigation into his practice, it was reported he told female patients that taking birth control made them less attractive. The story also claimed he recommended a colloidal silver compound—which can turn skin blue—for everything from bad breath to sunburns.
He’s also well-known locally for his bigoted, homophobic politics that culminated in his fierce opposition to the 2014 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. He’s been fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for electioneering violations, and in the 2009 mayor’s race his organization sent out 35,000 mailers pointing out that Annise Parker was a lesbian. She won the race anyway.
So it probably didn’t help that Earle was wearing his rainbow-colored mask.
It was such a disturbing confrontation for Earle that he says he isn’t sure about going to another protest anytime soon. But he’s still adamant about masks.
“I was a waiter,” he says, “I got furloughed at the original Barnaby’s Café. Bars in Montrose have closed down because so many of their staff got sick. These are people I know, industry people.”
The entire altercation was caught on tape by KPRC-TV Channel 2, and Earle is considering talking to an attorney and filing charges against Hotze.
“Two of the policemen came up to me afterward and thanked me,” he says, “but they did nothing to arrest him or even fine him at the time.”