Minnesota’s mask mandate is meant to keep us healthy. But the response from some has been “sick” — the accurate description that can be heard in a viral video of a man and woman wearing swastikas on their face masks while shopping last week at a Marshall Walmart.
The disgusting use of Nazi imagery should shock the conscience of all Minnesotans, who even in this deeply divided age should agree that such a disgraceful display is profoundly wrong.
“First and foremost, there is no question about it: The swastika is a hate symbol,” David Goldenberg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest, said in an interview with an editorial writer. So even if the woman in the video denied being a Nazi — instead saying, insipidly, “If you vote for [Joe] Biden, you’re going to be living in Nazi Germany” — the effect was disseminating hate.
The same can be said of a Facebook post this week from a Wabasha County GOP board member who compared the state’s mask mandate to Nazis forcing Jews to wear a Star of David. (The unidentified board member has resigned.) “Inappropriate references to the Holocaust in American civil discourse are the consummate demonization of a contrary view or political opinion,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, told an editorial writer.
Using Nazi imagery not only inflames those present, but does an historical injustice to World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, Hunegs said. Added Goldenberg: “When you see incidents like this occur, where the swastika or other hate symbols are used, those who are affected are not only the victim, but the entire community.”
Fortunately, the Marshall community includes Raphaela Mueller, a 24-year-old German native who is now a vicar at a southwest Minnesota Lutheran parish. She confronted, and recorded, the swastika-wearing couple, with the woman unsurprisingly responding with a gesture as vulgar as her mask.
Mueller posted on social media, “I was born and raised in Germany, and I grew up hearing about my great-grandmother who fought in the underground against the first wave of Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.”
Mueller later told the Washington Post that, “This is what my great-grandmother fought against. If I don’t say something, what did she risk her life for?”
Mueller’s response, Hunegs said, “is a reflection of the honest reckoning Germany has had with its past.” Evidently, now it’s time for America to reckon with its present — including, according to the ADL, a 66% spike in anti-Semitic incidents in just four years, from 1,267 in 2016 to 2,107 in 2019. In just the last year, Minnesota has seen a 32% rise, from 28 in 2018 to 37 in 2019.
Hunegs and Goldenberg both lauded Mueller’s moral courage, and so should all Americans. “We need more of those people,” Goldenberg said.
That means all of us. All the time.
“We all need to speak out,” Goldenberg added. “Because that’s the only way you’re going to put this genie back in the bottle.”