US: Outrage over cartoon equating mask requirement to Holocaust

The image was posted on social media by a Kansas newspaper owned by a county Republican chairman.

    Some Republicans in Kansas have criticised the Democratic governor's coronavirus restrictions [File: Jamie Squire/AFP]
    Some Republicans in Kansas have criticised the Democratic governor's coronavirus restrictions [File: Jamie Squire/AFP]

    A cartoon posted on the social media account of a weekly Kansas newspaper owned by a county Republican Party chairman has been condemned for comparing a state mandate requiring all residents to wear masks in public in light of the coronavirus pandemic with the roundup of Jews during the holocaust.

    The cartoon posted on the Anderson County Review's Facebook page depicts Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, wearing a mask with a Jewish Star of David on it, next to a drawing of people being loaded onto train cars.

    Its caption reads: "Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask ... and step onto the cattle car."

    About six million Jews were systematically executed by Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1945, with many rounded up and transported to concentration camps via trains. 

    The cartoon was posted on Facebook on Friday, the same day Kelly's mandatory mask order went into effect, as Kansas experienced its worst two-week spike in infections since the outbreak began in the United States. To date, more than 2.83 million infections have been recorded in the country and nearly 130,000 people have died from COVID-19. Recent weeks have seen an uptick in cases particularly in western and southern states. 

    The Anderson County Review is owned and published by county Republican Party chairman Dane Hicks. In an email provided to the New York Times and The Associated Press news agency which was later posted on the newspaper's blog, Hicks said he designed the image himself and plans to publish it in Tuesday's edition of the paper. It remained on the paper's Facebook page as of Sunday. 

    "The most telling example of authoritarian government I can think of is Nazi Germany - you'll recall
    various media personalities and Trump Haters constantly making the analogy between the president and Adolf Hitler," Hicks said. "I certainly have more evidence of that kind of totalitarianism in Kelly's actions, in an editorial cartoon sort of way, than Trump's critics do, yet they persist in it daily."

    'Deeply offensive'

    The cartoon prompted swift rebuke from Kelly, who issued a statement calling it "anti-Semitic" and "deeply offensive" and calling on Hicks to "remove it immediately". 

    Meanwhile, the state's Republican Party Chairman Michael Kuckelman told the AP news agency posting the cartoon was "inappropriate", while noting that the newspaper's Facebook page "has wide berth" under constitutional freedom of speech and freedom of press.

    In his statement, Hicks defended the message, saying political cartoons are "gross over-caricatures designed to provoke debate" and "fodder for the marketplace of ideas".

    "The topic here is the governmental overreach which has been the hallmark of Governor Kelly's administration," he said.

    Hicks's characterisation is in line with some Republicans in the state who have criticised Kelly's order as infringing on personal liberties, although Kansas law allows counties to opt out of the mandate. Anderson County, with a population of about 7,900, has done so.

    Under pressure from the state's Republican-controlled legislature, Kelly had previously lifted statewide restrictions on businesses and public gatherings on May 26, making Kansas one of several states across the US that health officials have criticised for reopening too early. 

    'Trifecta of garbage'

    Rabbi Moti Rieber, the executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, in an interview with the AP news agency said it was "incoherent" to equate an action designed to save lives with mass murder.

    He added that putting the Star of David on Kelly's mask is anti-Semitic because it implies "nefarious Jews" are behind her actions. 

    "This thing is like the trifecta of garbage," Rieber said.

    Hicks, in his statement, also shrugged off suggestions he should apologise.

    "Apologies: To whom exactly?" he said. "The critics on the Facebook page? Facebook is a cesspool and I only participate to develop readership."

    He added he "intended no slight" to Jews or Holocaust survivors.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies