A Republican Alaskan legislator compared coronavirus safety measures to Nazi tactics in a fiery email exchange between the 40 members of the state’s House of Representatives last week.
Hitler, Rep. Ben Carpenter later contended, was not a white supremacist but “fearful of the Jewish nation, and that drove him into some unfathomable atrocities.”
The furor ignited after the announcement of protocols for legislators returning to the state capital. They included the need to pass a health screening for the coronavirus, and then a requirement to wear a sticker showing they had successfully passed the screening.
Carpenter emailed his fellow state legislators – later leaked to a local news website – complaining angrily about the measure being taken as the legislature set to reconvene. “How about an arm band that won’t fall off like a sticker will? If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too? Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?” he asked.
Two of his Jewish colleagues were quick to respond.
“Keep your Holocaust jokes to yourself,” wrote one, Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins. He called Carpenter’s comment “a flippant, ignorant and disgusting remark,” telling him that while he was free to debate about constitutional rights, he must “NOT joke about how testing for a virus equates to genocide.”
Hopkins added: “Putting other people at risk because somebody doesn’t want to get a medical test to make sure they’re not carrying a disease that will kill others is NOT the same as labeling and targeting a group of people for genocide through hatred or ignorance.”
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Democratic state Rep. Andy Josephson also responded in the email thread, writing: “I don’t think a tag that we’re cleared to enter the building is akin to being shipped to a concentration camp. It’s more akin to needing a boarding pass when you get through TSA.”
Carpenter, however, was not the first legislator or protester to make a comparison between stay-at-home orders and other public health restrictions to those of dictatorial regimes, including Nazi Germany. Such comments have sprung up frequently in the debate over restrictions on movement and behavior.
Defending his analogy between COVID-19 regulations and Hitler’s Nazi regime, Carpenter told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday: “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 asked. “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.”
Carpenter said he believed the restrictions were excessive given the relatively low rate of infection and COVID-19-related deaths in Alaska, and that the rules in place threatened the economy and the “liberty” of Alaskans.
In a text message to the Daily News following the publication of the email chain and outraged reactions to his comments about Hitler, Carpenter further wrote: “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.”
Carpenter added that “I certainly have no ill will toward the Jewish nation and the Jewish people in our country.”
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, told the Anchorage Daily News that Carpenter’s emails were not appropriate and “for that, he should apologize.”
Alaska enjoys one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the United States, thanks to its relative isolation and early action: A state of emergency was declared there before even one state resident was found to be infected with the virus.
The state recently relaxed its lockdown restrictions, allowing restaurants, stores and beauty parlors to reopen with social distancing requirements. A requirement for all travelers coming in from out-of-state to self-quarantine for 14 days, however, has been extended, hampering the ability of the state to fully restart its tourism-dependent economy.