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Utah elected officials draw criticism for comparing face mask mandates to Hitler

Posted at 11:30 PM, Jun 26, 2020

Statements about mask mandates from a county commissioner and a state lawmaker in Utah have sparked a debate and backlash, after one of the comments compared Governor Gary Herbert to Adolf Hitler and another comment supported it.

Mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit Counties have led to an uproar with some citizens and politicians.

Those who aren't in favor of the new rules, explained at a protest Thursday that they feel it infringes upon their freedoms.

Many of those people have explained that they aren't against wearing masks, but they think that the government should not force it upon people. Those voicing their opinions include politicians and various state and local leaders.

"That's an individual decision, that's a free market decision," said Greg Hughes, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Speaker of the House, at Thursday's protest. "It is not decision of the State of Utah."

Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman tweeted out Thursday night, "Hang on friends, it won't be long before you are required to do the Sieg Heil salute to Herbert. Welcome to Utah now extend your right arm straight at 45 degrees keeping your hand parallel to your arm and offer your 'Heil Herbert.'"

The tweet included a picture of a crowd of people in the Sieg Heil salute.

The comparison led to backlash on social media.

Members of the Jewish community weighed in, saying the tweet was deeply offensive and trivializes the Holocaust.

"Unfortunately we're seeing more and more people on both the far left and the far right, using the Holocaust and Hitler as a comparison to anyone or anything they don't like," said Rabbi Samuel Spector, of Congregation Kol Ami.

He said what Governor Herbert put into place is extremely different than measures during the Nazi Regime by Adolf Hitler.

"It minimizes something that was truly a horrific event and it minimizes other horrific events today too, when we make a comparison of one person's story to another's," Rabbi Spector said.

Governor Herbert's office responded to Bushman's tweet, saying in part: "Drawing comparisons between a widely accepted public health practice during a pandemic and Hitler's brutal totalitarianism is beyond the pale."

Bushman deleted his Tweet and apologized, saying, "Sorry if you found my tweet offensive. I have removed it so as not to further offend. My apologies."

Friday afternoon, State House Representative Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) tweeted in support of Bushman.

"Hitler didn't start out killing Jews, Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hungarians, homosexuals, the disabled, political critics, Poles, Soviets, and Gypsies" he wrote, continuing, "that was after he asked politely for people to 'just wear the dam' arm band."

A number of people responded to his tweet as well, including Rep. Lyman's legislative colleague, Representative Brian King (R-Salt Lake City).

"Sorry, Phil, but this is not only deeply misguided and offensive. It dishonors the House of Representatives in which you serve," Rep. King tweeted. "Delete this post ASAP."

Rep. Lyman replied: "Brian, your double standard is appalling."

Representative Patrice Arent (D-Millcreek), the only Jewish member of the House of Representatives as well as the Co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, also offered a response and statement to Lyman's tweet.

"It is very hurtful to have this come from a legislative colleague. Trivializing the Holocaust to defend Commissioner Bushman's very inappropriate statement is deeply offensive. It belittles the memory of millions of Jews and others who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. Hitler sought to commit genocide against entire populations. It was a government program to murder as many people as possible. Governor Herbert's efforts to get people to wear masks are the opposite -- trying to save as many lives as possible."

Friday evening, Rep. Lyman sent Fox 13 a statement when asked about his tweet and the response it was getting, including from Rep. King.

He wrote:

"Opinions are just that, opinions. If people want to take offence, they should not be constrained to do otherwise. Politically-motivated shaming, virtue signaling, and duplicity, while irritating, are no exception. I will defend anyone's freedom of expression, even elected officials."

Lyman added that "elected officials," included his "friend and colleague Brian King."

Some groups like Alliance for a Better Utah and Twitter users called for Bushman to resign after his tweet.

"While I appreciate your input, I have no intention of resigning," he wrote. "Thank you."