A meme comparing Gov. Tim Walz's face mask mandate to Nazi Germany's forcing Jews to wear yellow badges during the Holocaust was posted on the Republican Party of Wabasha County's Facebook page Monday. It was quickly condemned by leaders of social justice advocacy groups and others as insensitive and lacking a grasp of history.
"Comparing the systemic targeting and murdering of 6 million to a statewide mandate, which is geared towards public safety, is on the face of it absolutely ridiculous," said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, a racial and social justice advocacy organization.
A Wabasha GOP official, in an interview this morning, initially claimed that its page had been hacked. But several hours later, in a Twitter statement, Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said the party has since learned that the page was not hacked and the offensive picture was posted by a board member who has "resigned effective immediately at our request."
"We are saddened by the vitriolic post and hope as we move forward that Republicans and Democrats alike will maintain the highest level of integrity, respect and sensitivity," Carnahan tweeted. "The Wabasha County (Republican) Board and MN GOP apologizes for this disappointing post."
The offending grainy black-and-white image shows a Nazi officer telling a elderly Jewish man, "Just put on the star and quit complaining. It's really not that hard." Below that is the kicker, "Just put on the mask and stop complaining."
The entire page has since been taken down.
In a tweet on Monday, before announcing the latest bombshell, Carnahan said state party representatives were told by Wabasha Republicans that they believed the page had been hacked.
"Our party does not support/condone divisive and harmful posts, or language of this nature," she said.
Twitter users heaped ridicule and scorn on the idea that the page was hacked. "Yeah, don't think we need to wait for the forensic analysis of the 'breach' on this one," one user replied.
The state DFL Party also dismissed the hacking idea, noting that the Wabasha GOP message was entirely in line with other anti-mask expressions by Republican candidates and leaders since Walz issued the order last week. The mandate requires the wearing of face coverings in all indoor public places in the state.
Last weekend, a couple wearing Nazi flag face masks at a Minnesota Walmart to protest the mandate was widely circulated on social media. GOP candidates for statewide office have also made free with the Nazi references.
Paul Brandmire, a GOP candidate for House District 14B, referred to Nazi Germany in denouncing a St. Cloud mask mandate.
"I mean, if we can mandate a mask, we can certainly mandate that any COVID-positive people wear some sort of identification badge, maybe like a bright yellow star or something on their lapel," he said, according to the DFL statement. Elizabeth Bangert, a GOP candidate for Senate District 19, called a person a "mask Nazi" in a Facebook live video.
Even Carnahan, who urged the two parties to adopt a civil and respectful tone toward each other today, has indulged in her own hyperbolic rhetoric since the mask mandate was issued.
"I live in a free country. You can not mandate that I wear a mask," Carnahan wrote a week ago. "You can strongly suggest it, but you can NOT mandate it. This is not North Korea, and you are not Kim Jong-un."
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a GOP state representative whose district includes parts of Wabasha County, and a sharp critic of Walz's mandates, has called the governor a "lawless, drunken monarch." He offered no criticism of the Facebook post.
"People are resisting and comparing their experiences to other instances in history where people were victimized by dictators," he said.
In an interview, before the news of the board member's resignation, Beverly Snow, chairwoman of the Wabasha County GOP BPOU, said she believed the party's page was hacked. The issue was brought up at a GOP meeting Monday night, and no one there said they knew of anyone who would post material like that.
"From my opinion, we were hacked," she said. "We don't approve of any of this."
Once the party's Facebook page is restored, Snow said, all images and comments will have to be approved by her before they can be posted.
Mrotz was doubtful of the hacking theory. She noted that local party pages are run by volunteers and are often "not well-moderated." It would be relatively easy for a volunteer to post something offensive. The Nazi reference, moreover, was consistent with the "tone and tenor" of other material on the GOP page.
"It's Occam's Razor," she said, referencing the theory that the simplest solution is often the right one. "The rest of your page is offensive memes."
Mrotz said the Minnesota Rabbinical Assembly, a body of Jewish clergy, issued a statement of support for a mask mandate as Walz was deliberating the issue. Given the likelihood that clergy members lost family members during the Holocaust, it felt "incredibly callous" to link the mandate to such a horrible event.
"To me, it felt almost like an attack on them," she said.
Mrotz said the meme itself, apart from its comparison to the mask mandate, makes light of the Holocaust. The casual tone with which a Nazi officer tells a Jew to put on the star and stop complaining suggests that such labeling was no big deal, when, in fact, it was a veritable death sentence.
"It absolutely downplays the horror of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism by implying that wearing the star was just a minor inconvenience, rather than a way of labeling people for death," she said.