Minnesota Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen continues to stir controversy over recent comments likening mask mandates to measures in Nazi Germany, defending those remarks twice this week and drawing criticism from Democratic elected officials and some Jewish groups.
The comments, made to an anti-COVID mandate group in April and posted on Twitter this week by online media hub TC Jewfolk, are the latest from the physician and former state senator who rose to prominence in the party over his opposition to lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of the pandemic. But the remarks quickly drew criticism over his comparison of pandemic mandates such as masking to actions taken by Nazi Germany in the 1930s that helped Adolf Hitler rise to power.
"The little things grew into something bigger. Then there was a night called Kristallnacht, the night of the breaking glass," Jensen said at an event with the group Mask Off Minnesota. "Then there was the book burning, and it kept growing and growing, and a guy named Hitler kept growing in power. … In a way, I think that's why you're here today, is you sense that something is happening, and it's growing little by little."
Jensen doubled down on those comments in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday and again at an event with the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to audio obtained by the DFL Party and provided to the Star Tribune. A reporter for the Star Tribune was told the event was closed to the press.
In the video posted on Facebook Tuesday, Jensen said he doesn't believe he was being insensitive about the Holocaust when he talked about "incremental change designed by government to effect sweeping societal changes."
"I think it's a legitimate comparison," he said, adding, "You don't get to be my thought police person."
Later in the evening, at the Jewish GOP event with other Republican statewide candidates for office, Jensen echoed those comparisons and said Democrats were trying to "demonize" him and distract voters from their party's record on issues such as crime and the economy.
"What's happened over the last two and a half years has parallels to what happened with the 1933 banning of books, banning of Jewish authors, burning of books, Kristallnacht in 1938," he said. "This was a sequence of events that should never have been happening. It should never have been turned away from. It should have been elevated, but the media wasn't there, and we're seeing the same thing in America today."
Some Jewish groups and elected officials have criticized Jensen for the remarks, including Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips.
"I believe in our freedom of speech," Phillips tweeted, "but comparing Nazi Kristallnacht, which murdered human beings, to the wearing of masks to reduce COVID transmission, which saved human beings — is repulsive and shameful."
Jacob Millner, the Minnesota regional director for the American Jewish Committee, said it was disappointing that Jensen made the comments and "just as disappointing" that he later said the comparison was legitimate. Millner said Jensen should "better understand the severity of the Holocaust and realize there is no comparison to the horror it inflicted on millions of innocent people."
Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Birk defended Jensen at an event in Minneapolis on Wednesday, saying voters are more concerned with issues such as crime than comments like Jensen's.
"We know the game. I've been victim of it," said Birk, who has been criticized for past comments on abortion. "Scott's been a victim of it for a long time. You take 10-second sound clips … and it's the age of outrage on Twitter."
Staff writers Jessie Van Berkel and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.