Scott Jensen, Minnesota’s Republican nominee for governor, likened mask mandates to Kristallnacht and Nazi book burnings at an event sponsored by Mask Off Minnesota this past spring, more than two years into COVID.
“As is the case with so many powerful initiatives like MaskOff, it starts with one thing, but it becomes another and another and it expands. If you remember, go back to World War II. 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. “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.”
Mask Off Minnesota is an interest group peddling in COVID-19 misinformation, claiming that masking and the covid vaccines don’t work. In fact, the vaccines dramatically reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and face masks are proven to prevent infection. More than one million Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Jensen, along with other Republican candidates Matt Birk (lieutenant governor), Kim Crockett (secretary of state), Jim Schultz (attorney general), Ryan Wilson (auditor), and all four candidates challenging the DFL members of congress, will be featured at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum on Tuesday night at the Barry Family Campus. The event is not open to the media.
“Such comparisons are extremely wrong for all the reasons we’ve stated in the past,” said Ethan Roberts, the director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which has made at least two different statements on the issue. “We invite Dr. Jensen to meet with the JCRC to discuss why such comparisons are so damaging.”
The Anti-Defamation League said that comparisons like Jensen’s are “generally not indications of antisemitic animus; however, they are often used to further a political agenda. Such references are outrageous and may be profoundly hurtful to Jews, many of whom lost family members or carry memories of the trauma suffered by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents during the destruction of European Jewry.”
Officials from the Jensen campaign and the RJC did not return emails seeking comment.
“Scott Jensen’s remarks are outrageous and offensive, but what’s just as disturbing is the fact that they’re part of a pattern. Dangerous rhetoric and conspiracy theories define who Scott Jensen is,” a spokesperson from Gov. Tim Walz’s campaign said. “Governor Walz can always be counted on to reject extremism and antisemitism.”
This isn’t the first time Minnesota Republicans have used Holocaust imagery in their opposition to masking and other COVID-related restrictions.
In July 2020, St. Cloud City Councilmember Paul Brandmire said at a city council meeting that COVID-positive individuals should be marked with a yellow star on their lapel. City council positions are non-partisan, but Brandmire was the GOP nominee for state house in District 14B in 2020.
A week later, the Facebook page of the Wabasha County Republican Party shared a photo of a Nazi officer speaking to a man wearing a Star of David pinned to his jacket. The text above the photo said “Just put on the star and quit complaining, it’s really not that hard,” and below the photo: “Just put on the mask and quit complaining.” The person who originally posted the photo did so with the comment: “History is repeating!” Jennifer Carnahan, then the chair of the Minnesota GOP, claimed that the group’s Facebook had been hacked.
This wasn’t the first time Jensen, a one-term former state senator and family physician from Chaska, publicly made analogies between COVID and Nazis. In 2021, he signed on to an affidavit for a court petition from an organization called America’s Frontline Doctors, which opposed children being vaccinated against COVID-19. The petition compared the nationwide vaccination effort to Nazi doctors convicted at Nuremberg for experimenting on imprisoned Jews, Poles, and Russians without their consent, but Jensen told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he read 10 of the 80 pages of the petition, and that it wasn’t finished when he signed it.
Jensen and Crockett have also had other issues this year. Jensen hosted Royce White, a former pro basketball player and GOP candidate in the fifth congressional district primary, on his podcast. White is a self-described antisemite, and is also a regular on the Blaze TV show of former sportswriter-turned-conservative commentator Jason Whitlock, where he has decried the “globalist agenda,” and in January complained of a “Jewish elite,” and that it’s a problem when it’s suggested that there is a Jewish elite, there are cries of antisemitism.
Crockett, at the Minnesota Republican Party Convention in May, showed a video that featured an image of Hungarian Jewish philanthropist George Soros manipulating strings attached to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and Marc Elias, a noted voting rights attorney.
The Anti-Defamation League has said attacks against Soros use “longstanding antisemitic myths, particularly the notion that rich and powerful Jews work behind the scenes, plotting to control countries and manipulate global events.”