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GOP Alaska legislator apologizes for using Nazi analogy to criticize coronavirus screenings

GOP Alaska legislator apologizes for using Nazi analogy to criticize coronavirus screenings
© Alaska House of Representatives

A Republican state lawmaker in Alaska has apologized for comparing coronavirus safety measures at the Statehouse to the Nazi treatment of Jewish people, saying he used the wrong analogy to warn against “government overreach.”

Alaska state Rep. Ben Carpenter (R) faced backlash over the weekend after he complained about legislators being asked to wear a sticker proving they’ve passed a health screening before reentering the state Capitol during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I used an analogy of the Star of David being used to identify Jews in Nazi Germany. I used that as an analogy to discuss government overreach, and that went over like a lead balloon,” Carpenter said on KSRM-AM radio Monday. “If I had the opportunity to do it over again I would have chosen a different analogy. While we still need to discuss government overreach, the analogy I used detracted from the substance of the argument. I apologize publicly for any offense that created, it was not my intent to offend.” 

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“I am not a racist like I have been painted out to be,” he added.

In a column for the state’s leading Republican blog, Must Read Alaska, Carpenter elaborated on his original argument that the health screenings and subsequent stickers are a violation of civil liberties.

“What I couldn’t possibly say in the moment was that the Holocaust didn’t begin with the labeling of undesirables and heinous deprivation of personal liberty. It began with a contagious fear amongst the German people that eventually led to the widespread support of horrifying government overreach,” he wrote. “While not reaching the level of depravity of the German people, and certainly not an equal comparison, our own people labeled women with a scarlet letter and interned Japanese-Americans during WWII out of fear. We must be eternally vigilant and hold liberty in high regard if we are to prevent such behavior in the future.”

Carpenter said that while he was not minimizing the “tragic loss of life” caused by COVID-19, fear associated with the virus must not be allowed to “drive us to accept additional security at the expense of our liberty.”

“Our National Motto is still ‘In God We Trust’. So, I have hope for the future. I know that white supremacists like Adolf Hitler are fearful bullies who must be exterminated from the face of the earth,” he added.

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Carpenter's controversial remarks were made on Friday in an email thread with all 40 members of Alaska’s House of Representative.

“How about an arm band that won’t fall off like a sticker will?” Carpenter wrote. “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?”

His message was immediately condemned by Democratic members of the legislature, some of whom are Jewish.

“Ben, This is disgusting. Keep your Holocaust jokes to yourself,” Rep. Grier Hopkins (D) wrote before adding that “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 and ignorance.”

Carpenter initially stood by his comments, telling the Anchorage Daily News that he didn’t intend to “rile somebody.” 

“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?” Carpenter said. “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.”

He also sent a follow-up text message to the outlet, claiming “Hitler wasn’t fearful of a Jewish nation because there was not one. 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.”