You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Alaska lawmaker says Hitler was not white supremacist after comparing coronavirus measures to Nazi rule

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/17/2020 Hannah Knowles, Candace Buckner
a statue in front of a building: The front entrance of the Alaska Capitol building in Juneau. © Becky Bohrer/AP The front entrance of the Alaska Capitol building in Juneau.

The uproar began when an Alaska lawmaker emailed all 39 of his statehouse colleagues to compare health-screening stickers to the badges that singled out Jews during the Holocaust.

“If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too?” Rep. Ben Carpenter (R) wrote Friday, sharing his dismay at a new requirement for legislators returning to the Alaska Capitol amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. “Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?”

The backlash was swift: “Ben, this is disgusting,” one Jewish representative wrote back in emails first posted by the Alaska Landmine. “I don’t think a tag that we’re cleared to enter the building is akin to being shipped to a concentration camp,” responded another. The leader of the state House’s Republican delegation said Carpenter should apologize.

Subscribe to the Post Most newsletter: Today’s most popular stories on The Washington Post

But Carpenter dug in.

“Can you or I — can we even say it is totally out of the realm of possibility that covid-19 patients will be rounded up and taken somewhere?” he said later in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, arguing that officials are overreacting to the virus with limits on people’s liberty. “People want to say Hitler was a white supremacist. No. He was fearful of the Jewish nation, and that drove him into some unfathomable atrocities.”

That provoked a new round of denunciations from fellow lawmakers, one of whom said he’s seen similar arguments making the rounds online. The comments echo comparisons made by some protesters opposed to stay-at-home orders who argue that strict public health measures are akin to slavery and genocidal dictatorships — governors have been likened to Nazis — in rhetoric that many view as inappropriate in a national debate about measures to curb the coronavirus.

Slideshow by photo services

Anti-Semitic symbols and Confederate flags have also popped up at protests, causing offense and getting entangled in resistance to lockdowns.

“If people want to have a dialogue about how this is infringing on our Constitution, I’m happy to have that conversation,” said Rep. Grier Hopkins (D), the Jewish representative who wrote the email calling Carpenter’s initial message disgusting.

“But I hope he understands that this is not the Holocaust, and how that massacred 6 million Jews, and how genocide is not health mandates,” he told The Washington Post on Saturday.

Democratic colleague Rep. Andy Josephson told the Anchorage Daily News: “I don’t know there’s a whole lot more to say. I just think it’s pretty unfortunate.” Rep. Lance Pruitt (R), the House Minority Leader, called again for an apology and said in a statement Saturday night that Carpenter’s recent comments “were in poor taste."

Carpenter, who did not immediately respond to The Post’s inquiries Saturday, told the newspaper he didn’t intend to “rile somebody’ and has “no ill will toward the Jewish nation and the Jewish people in our country.”

Another representative on the mass email chain reviewed by The Post sympathized with Carpenter’s view, later telling the Daily News she wanted to “stay away from either condoning or condemning anything he said about [the Holocaust].” She said she agreed with his take on the virus response.

“We should all be concerned about the implications of being labeled as ‘non compliant’ or wearing a badge of ‘compliance,’ ” the representative, Sarah Vance (R), wrote in an email after Hopkins had written his rebuke.

Protesters and lawmakers around the country have raised questions about the value of continued coronavirus restrictions, though polling shows a majority of Americans are concerned about lifting stay-at-home orders too early. Shutdowns have devastated the economy, put millions out of work and placed sweeping new limits on Americans’ daily lives.

The requirement that sparked Carpenter’s email, though, was quite limited in scope: a rule that state legislators wear stickers indicating they’ve passed a health test when they head back to Juneau on Monday.

“We want to take necessary precautions because we have some of the most rural communities in the entire country, and they were decimated by the Spanish flu because people brought the disease back,” Hopkins said. “ ‘It is enough? Will it help to keep us all safe?’ [are] some of the bigger questions I’ve heard.” 

Like most states, Alaska has been moving to reopen: Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) let restaurants, retail stores and hair and nail salons start operating late last month, though with new social distancing requirements, such as capacity limits that many businesses find burdensome.

But Carpenter still said he sees coronavirus measures as a slippery slope. He argues that with 10 Alaskan coronavirus deaths, the fear of the pandemic is a bigger threat than the disease — a view shared by some national leaders including President Trump, who has tweeted that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”

“We have a way of life that is being threatened right now because we have shut down our economy,” Carpenter told the Daily News.

He continued to defend his statements in text messages to the newspaper after its story with his Hitler comments published, saying: “The point was that it was fear that drove him. The attention of his fear was undesirables, including Jews. And the larger point is that PEOPLE FOLLOWED HIM.”

Asked about the assessment of Hitler, Hopkins evoked the 2017 neo-Nazi rally where people chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Attendees have described themselves as “white nationalists” who want a “homeland for white people.”

“If those people were not white supremacists,” he said in an interview, “well, I guess I don’t know what a white supremacist looks like.”


More from The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon