In Michigan throughout the past year, we have seen countless individuals, including right-wing elected officials, invoke the Holocaust when discussing COVID-19. Whether it’s regarding vaccination records, disgusting characterizations of our governor’s public health response, or the House Oversight Committee giving a platform to notorious conspiracy theorists, each of these gross comparisons to a genocide of millions of individuals by Nazi Germany is reprehensible.
We had a taste of these misguided comparisons during the April 2020 protests at the state capitol in Lansing, which some now refer to as a dress rehearsal for the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. And of course, at the latter event, a rioter even wore a t-shirt that venerated the death camps Nazis operated during World War II.
Now, many Michiganders have seen the news that a parent at a Birmingham School Board meeting gave the Nazi salute after one Jewish and one Black woman spoke in support of mandatory masking in classrooms.
Some of these extremists openly identify with Nazis, while others invoke offensive and degrading comparisons between their own “struggle” as reckless conspiracy theorists and the very real suffering of millions during the Holocaust. Regardless of format or intention, these remarks and actions have one thing in common: they are deeply offensive and unacceptable.
This behavior has no place in our state, let alone our schools. But the antisemitism and racism on display here is part of a larger pattern that has emerged throughout the past year of right-wing racism around COVID-19. These incidents are also connected to the anti-Asian racism and xenophobic rhetoric that have unfortunately become more prevalent during the pandemic.
Even Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock has promoted gross imagery that depicted our governor with Nazi symbolism. But when she said last year on television that “nobody” cares about the safety of Birmingham, did that include the ability for families to not be a victim to hate crimes? Perhaps she should reconsider that previous assertion.
Right-wing misinformation about masks and COVID and the usage of Nazi imagery and antisemitic tropes are tied together and both far too common. Michigan must do better to address and combat this dangerous, bigoted rhetoric. The safety of our children and marginalized communities depend on it.
We all want our children to have a quality public education where they can learn right from wrong. However, the behavior we have seen from a vocal and outsized faction of those who are exploiting this pandemic inevitably leads to community harm and division. Let’s do better and make clear these words and actions have no place at all, whether at a school board meeting or in Lansing.