MINNEAPOLIS — Republican candidate for Minnesota governor, Dr. Scott Jensen, is facing backlash after remarks likening public health officials' guidelines at the start of the pandemic to actions taken by the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany.
In a video from an April Mask Off MN event, Jensen makes reference to the Holocaust, Kristallnacht and Nazi Germany as he spoke to the room of supporters about COVID-19 guidelines and mandates recommended by Department of Health officials, that were enforced by Gov. Tim Walz.
"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,’” Jensen said at the event. “And then the little things grew into something bigger. 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.”
On Tuesday, Jensen defended his comments in a Facebook video, saying in part, "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 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."
On Wednesday, KARE 11 spoke with Jensen as he left the grand opening of a new Somali Community Center in Minneapolis. He maintained there are "subtle lessons" from the 1930s that "match up" with those learned during the beginning phases of COVID."
He said, in part:
"The obvious lesson with the holocaust is without question the horrific genocide that was committed, but the subtle lessons also have to be learned and that's why I was willing to speak to that issue," adding, "Whether you're talking about contact tracing, tracing people against their will with their phone, creating snitch lines, call us and tell us about your neighbors and what they're doing — these kind of things were things that happened in the 1930s, and it engendered a culture where this kind of thing can happen."
Ethan Roberts, director of government affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and The Dakotas, said he's tired of having this conversation.
"We don't want to be here in the middle of a political campaign, but you know we are the consensus voice for our community and so we're going to stand up,” he said. "Since April of 2020, we have been saying, over and over, to the point where I'm feeling like no one is listening, that these comments are inflammatory and they trivialize the Holocaust. They just are wrong; so wrong. I understand he is trying to talk about incrementalism but why can't Dr. Jensen find some other analogy that doesn't involve, first, the dehumanization of my people? And the systemic murder and genocide of my people?”
Statements condemning Jensen's remarks were issued by many state and group leaders, including Jewish Community Action Executive Director Beth Gendler and U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN)..
Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin also issued a statement on behalf of the party, calling Jensen's discourse "dangerous."
“These remarks are as outrageous as they are unsurprising — dangerous rhetoric and conspiracy theories have defined Scott Jensen's gubernatorial campaign from the beginning,” Martin said in a statement. “Minnesotans deserve a governor who can be counted on to reject extremism and anti-Semitism.”
Gov. Walz's campaign manager, Nichole Johnson, wrote in a statement from the governor's office that it views Jensen's comments as "outrageous" and "unacceptable."
“Scott Jensen’s decision to double down on his outrageous remarks about the Holocaust are unacceptable for anyone seeking the governor’s office,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, the wife of Minnesota Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Barb Abeler, wrote a response to criticism of Jensen in a now-deleted tweet, reading:
"Really????? You still don't get it?? Masks were proven not to work, yet like nazis they mandated them! What a joke! And all the sheep went along without question. Heil Hitler!"
On Wednesday, Abeler tweeted again, this time to "apologize" for the "inappropriate tweet."
Jensen and his running mate, Matt Birk, were slated to speak Tuesday night at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Candidate Forum, among other Republicans in the state seeking office.
KARE 11 extended requests for comment to the Abeler office, Minnesota Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition, but has not heard back.
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