The election denying extremist who is in charge of the Michigan Republican Party has cooked up some offensive new scare tactics to oppose proposed gun safety legislation in Michigan—but they’re just more bizarre conspiracy theories.
MICHIGAN—Michigan Republican Chairwoman Kristina Karamo—who still refuses to concede to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson despite an overwhelming defeat in November—has a new scheme to convince Michiganders that gun safety legislation will somehow lead to genocide.
The conspiracy began to unfold this week with a single post from the Michigan Republican Party’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts, which used a misleading Ronald Reagan quote to suggest that Democrats in the Legislature are trying to “disarm” Michigan gun owners.
Accompanying the post was an image stored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which shows wedding rings seized from Jewish prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The post quickly evoked outrage for drawing a connection between proposed gun safety legislation and the genocide of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
“Comparing gun safety measures to the mass extermination of 6 million people is hateful and ignorant, and it comes from party leaders who are out of ideas and catering to the fringe of the fringe,” Democratic US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is Jewish, wrote on Twitter in response.
She added: “Delete it, apologize, and figure out what kind of party you want to be.”
The gun safety package referenced in the post was introduced in response to two mass shootings in Michigan within the last 15 months—including last month’s mass shooting at Michigan State University that left three students dead and several others injured.
Specifically, the pending legislation would add new requirements for universal background checks, safe storage of guns, and create extreme risk protection orders, known as red flag laws.
Red flag laws, which exist in 19 other states, are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior, only through a judge’s order and at the request of law enforcement or family members in hopes of preventing them from hurting themselves or others.
Despite what Karamo believes, these laws would not give the government broad authority to “disarm” Michiganders. An Associated Press analysis found many of the 19 states with red flag laws used them only sparingly. And in the rare cases where they’ve been used, research shows they can save lives by preventing mass shooting and suicides.
Still, Karamo went on to defend the post on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon as criticism rolled in—even from fellow Republicans, faith-based groups, and advocacy organizations.
Matt Brooks, chief executive of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the post was “absolutely inappropriate and offensive and should be taken down immediately.” The Anti-Defamation League tweeted that “using the Holocaust as a way to score cheap political points in the debate over gun control is unacceptable and trivializes the memory of millions murdered by the Nazis.”
Karamo called a press conference to address the social media post late Wednesday afternoon, the sole purpose of which was to double down on the statement, and dismiss the criticism.
“Any notion that the Michigan Republican Party drawing comparisons between historical events and the Democrats’ push to disarm the people of Michigan is somehow offensive or bigoted is flat out dishonest,” Karamo said before breaking into a brief debate with Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the executive director of the Jewish Relations Council, who was seated in the front row.
Lopatin told Karamo that the Jewish community was “hurting and offended” by the post, and that it showed a “lack of sensitivity” and a “lack of decency because it’s exploiting the Holocaust.”
Karamo still pushed back, claiming that Lopatin’s feedback—and that of all others who were offended by the post—was “disingenuous”, “dishonest,” and “purely politically motivated.”
“Any notion that this is somehow offensive or bigoted is flat-out dishonest,” she said.
Karamo instead suggested that “protecting our Judeo-Christian morality” could serve as a better solution to curbing gun violence, and claimed that most Americans are simply too “soft.”
“We are a different Republican Party,” she said. “We are not the Republican Party who apologizes and runs away from our positions. It’s the reason why the Republican Party has gotten kicked in the teeth the last three cycles, because it’s been a party that’s always apologizing. We’re done.”
Karamo lost her secretary of state race in the midterms by 14 percentage points after mounting a campaign filled with election conspiracies—including comparing abortion to child sacrifice; falsely claiming that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, downplaying the Jan. 6 insurrection; condemning LGBTQ relationships; accusing women of being addicted to porn; and declaring that couples who live together before marriage somehow opens the door to pedophilia.
At Wednesday’s press conference, she also pointed the blame for recent mass shootings on violent television programming, and dismissed the idea it could be tied to easy access to guns.
“It’s almost like ritualistic bloodletting has become prevalent,” she said. “Our children spend countless hours watching bloodletting on television shows. We lack the value of human life. Killing children in the name of freedom is now celebrated and cheered in our society.”
In winning the GOP chairwoman seat, Karamo inherited a state party torn by infighting and millions in debt—and she’s now tasked with trying to win back control of the Legislature, flip one of the nation’s most competitive Senate seats, and help a presidential candidate win in 2024.
When asked at the press conference about how doubling down on the offensive rhetoric could impact fundraising efforts for Republicans, Karamo simply dismissed the concerns altogether.
“I really don’t care what they have to say,” she said.
Karamo’s election has only solidified the hold that far-right activists have on the state party after the GOP’s extremist views contributed to Republicans suffering sweeping electoral losses in 2022. But some see the Holocaust comparison as being part of a pattern that has lurked in the background for the last several years.
“Let’s be clear: this is not the result of new, more extreme leadership at the party,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement. “It’s been a consistent pattern from Michigan Republicans to use the Holocaust in order to score cheap political points, whether during the pandemic to oppose public health protections or to oppose abortion rights.”
The social media posts from the Michigan Republican Party follow a recent wave of comparisons to the Holocaust and Nazis that scholars and organizations have said are concerning. Earlier this month, Pope Francis compared Nicaragua’s repression of Catholics to Adolf Hitler’s rule in Germany, while in Britain, a BBC sportscaster also likened the nation’s asylum policy to 1930s Germany, resulting in his brief suspension and a national uproar.
The comparisons also come at a time of growing anti-Semitism, which has had significant consequences.Earlier this month, a man was charged with threatening the lives of Jewish public officials—including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel—after tweeting that he would “carry out the punishment of death to anyone” who is Jewish in the state’s government. Michigan also had the fourth most reported white supremacist propaganda of any state in 2022, reports show.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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