Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) recently made a mistake by misusing a symbol of the Holocaust -- wearing a yellow Star of David in protest of COVID-19 restrictions. It was apparently during a speech Walsh gave last month to a church group in Lacey that was critical of efforts to discriminate against people based on their vaccination status.
When video of the event emerged on social media, legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of the Pacific Northwest condemned Walsh’s behavior. Rep. Walsh responded to the criticism of his use of Holocaust metaphors by apologizing and vowing not to do it again in the future. I commend his change of heart and contrition.
Similarly, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) recently referred to medical staff as “Brownshirts” when speaking out against vaccines, then later apologized. These news stories sparked a discussion that I think is worth having publicly, and even asking folks like the ADL and representatives of the Jewish community to weigh in on.
Over the past year, I have attended about 100 protests in our region, the majority being in Olympia, but elsewhere as well. These have included demonstrations by Black Lives Matter, Antifa anarchists, and right-wing groups. I live-streamed many of these events for the public to see, during a time that most people were in lockdown and only accessing national media and social media. Very little coverage was given by local newspapers and TV stations, which is one of the reasons I have valued The JOLT’s focus on local issues. Nearly all demonstrations were characterized by groups of people with strong emotions shouting loud chants, waving signs, and marching. Some protests involved fights, skirmishes with police, and crowd control measures like tear gas and flash-bangs. Unfortunately, many of the protests degraded into riots, with violence and vandalism becoming their focus.
Right here in Olympia it is not uncommon for hyperbole to rule at protests, whether vocalized or written on signs. Catchy chants, clever slogans, and “sick burns” are the rule rather than the exception. As you have likely seen, protests often deteriorate into name calling, whether against opponents or authority figures. Black and Asian police officers have often been called the most vulgar racist terms, as have those who support them. But an equally troubling behavior is the frequent use of Holocaust language, including Brownshirts, Fascists, and Nazi.
Extremist anarchist and Antifa protesters routinely use the label “Nazi” toward police and anyone opposed to their views. It is almost their knee-jerk response, and it flows right into a favorite slogan, “Punch a Nazi.” As you can see, this is where dehumanization and objectification are used to incite violence. This is also where I think people can improve their behavior, and we should demand they adhere to a higher standard.
If you ever encounter a real Nazi, of course, condemn them. That goes without saying, like, “I condemn kicking puppies!” Well, of course you do. But let’s also condemn protesters and politicians who trivialize words like Nazi when they use them to slander anyone who simply disagrees with their own political views.
Insensitive terms like Nazi should not be tossed around like candy at a parade. It is time to stop the offensive use of terminology that should be reserved for labeling the uniquely horrific members of WWII Germany’s Third Reich.
David Ross attended The Evergreen State College while working as a grocery checker. He has been a psychiatric social worker, documentary filmmaker, and college faculty in his hometown of Olympia where he also produces The David Ross Show and podcast.