(JTA) — The official Twitter account of Michigan’s Republican Party posted an image comparing gun control to the Holocaust on Wednesday. Then, following condemnations of the post by Jewish groups, the party doubled down on its message.
It’s the latest example of Holocaust imagery being utilized to deliver a partisan political message.
The image in question shows a trough filled with wedding rings seized by the Nazis from Jews entering the Buchenwald concentration camp. The photo was taken by the U.S. Army in May 1945, when the camp was liberated, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archives.
In the Michigan Republicans’ post, text pasted over the image of the rings reads, “Before they collected all these wedding rings… they collected all the guns.” The party appended a caption to the image: “#History has shown us that the first thing a government does when it wants total control over its people is to disarm them.” It included the hashtags #2A, referring to the Second Amendment, and #GOP.
A Google search reveals that the image has been circulating as a meme for at least a year. The Michigan Republicans shared it in response to Michigan’s Democratic-led Senate advancing new gun safety measures last week in the wake of a February mass shooting at Michigan State University.
Although the Nazis did have restrictive gun laws, and specifically forbade Jews from owning weapons, historians largely agree such laws were not what led to the Holocaust. Comparing contemporary events to the Holocaust has become a regular political tactic in recent years.
Several prominent Republicans argued that mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic were analogous to Nazi actions. In 2019, progressive Democrats created an uproar by referring to immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps,” and a 2020 video by the Jewish Democratic Council of America drew parallels between the rise of Nazism and the Trump presidency.
Wednesday’s post drew condemnation from local and national Jewish groups and elected officials, including the aforementioned Jewish Democratic Council of America. Those criticizing the post online ranged from pro-Israel influencers and the watchdog group StopAntisemitism to Jewish Democrats in the state legislature and Republican Jewish activists.
“This tweet by @MIGOP is absolutely inappropriate and offensive and should be taken down immediately,” tweeted Matt Brooks, the CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition. A Jewish former staffer for the Michigan Republican Party wrote, “I’m so disgusted and furious beyond words that this horrible trivialization of the Holocaust is being normalized by my state party.”
Jeremy Moss, the president pro tempore of the Michigan Senate and a Jewish Democrat, tweeted, “Haven’t the victims of the Holocaust suffered enough than to be shamefully exploited in death by this vile post? Anti-semitism thrives when these grotesque distortions of history diminish it.”
The Michigan GOP did not immediately respond to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment, but has defended the post in the face of mounting backlash. The party’s new chair, Kristina Karamo, posted her own statement to Twitter three hours after the initial post, seemingly defending the Holocaust comparison.
“Our 2nd Amendment was put in place to protect us from aspiring tyrants. MIGOP stands by our statement,” wrote Karamo, a far-right former candidate for secretary of state who denies the outcome of the 2020 election. In her statement, she also referenced the United States’ history of racism, referred to “government abuse of citizens” and added, “We will not be silent as the Democratic Party, the party who fought to enslave Black Americans, and currently fights to murder unborn children, attempt to disarm us.”
Her state party, in turn, endorsed her remarks, calling the criticism of the initial post a “bogus authoritarian frenzy over the legitimate comparison to the troubling history of governments that have disarmed their citizens.”
Karamo was elected in February to replace outgoing chair Ron Weiser, who is Jewish, following a disappointing election for the state’s Republican Party, as they lost control of both state chambers and all major elected statewide positions. One of the other candidates for chair was former Congressional candidate Lena Epstein, who was raised Jewish but announced during her campaign that she had been “baptized” as “a Jewish Messianic believer of Christ.” Epstein dropped out of the race prior to the state Republican convention.
Attempts to reach Weiser, who continues to serve on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, were unsuccessful.