In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. Even before COVID, they were fighting vaccine mandates and other public health measures.
When the Minnesota GOP’s nominee for governor invoked Kristallnacht and Hitler at a recent anti-mask mandate rally, it was a by-now familiar scene: a public figure comparing life under COVID-19 restrictions to the days of Nazi rule.
But on Tuesday, former State Sen. Scott Jensen did something unusual: he doubled down.
“I want to speak to a little bit of a hubbub that’s been in the media lately about whether or not I was insensitive in regards to the Holocaust. I don’t believe I was,” Jensen said in a Facebook video. “When I make a comparison that says that I saw government policies intruding on American freedoms incrementally, one piece at a time, and compare that to what happened in the 1930s, I think it’s a legitimate comparison.”
It was a markedly different approach to a cycle that has continued on repeat since the initial COVID outbreak in 2020: A public figure declaring that mask mandates and lockdown measures, usually instituted by Democrats, have something in common with Nazi policies, before reversing course following pressure from Jewish groups and Holocaust memorial organizations. That was the case with Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson; New York City Councilwoman Vickie Paladino; antivax activist Robert Kennedy Jr.; and others.
But unlike those other figures, Jensen stood by his words, saying, “It may not strike your fancy — that’s fine. But this is how I think, and you don’t get to be my thought police person.”
Jensen, who received more than 90% of the Republican vote in Minnesota’s Aug. 9 primary, was responding to a recording of him at an anti-mask rally in the state in April, where he said that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID policies were comparable to Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” that heralded the beginning of the Nazis’ antisemitic mass violence.
“If you look at the 1930s and you look at it carefully, we could see some things happening, little things, that people chose to push aside — ‘It’s going to be okay. And then the little things grew into something bigger,’” Jensen said at the rally, in a speech captured on video. “Then there was a night called Kristallnacht — the night of the breaking glass.
“Then there was the book burning, and it kept growing and growing, and a guy named Hitler kept growing in power, and World War II came about. Well, in a way, I think that’s why you’re here today. You sense that something’s happening, and it’s growing little by little.”
The rally was sponsored by Mask Off Minnesota, a group that spreads COVID-19 misinformation. Jensen, a licensed physician, is himself unvaccinated and has made public comments in which he has questioned the efficacy of COVID vaccines and other pandemic policies.