ADL Michigan Says Extremists Exploiting Stay-at-Home Protests to Spread Fear and Hate

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The ADL’s Michigan chapter condemned the use of Nazi comparisons and imagery at recent re-open protests, adding that extremists are exploiting the situation to spread fear and hate. The remarks come on the heels of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer saying that the armed protests displayed racism and anti-Semitism.

In a statement to The North Star, ADL Michigan Regional Director Carolyn Normandin responded to Whitmer’s comments by saying that the use of Nazi comparisons and imagery was disturbing. Normandin added that society would be better off if individuals restrained themselves from using “divisive and unethical comparisons.”

“It’s quite disturbing to see protesters comparing Governor Whitmer to Adolf Hitler,” Normandin said. “Equating the governor’s actions towards preventing illness and death -- to a man who ordered the state-sponsored death of millions of people -- just doesn’t add up. It is offensive on so many levels.”

On May 3, Whitmer spoke out against the armed protests that took place at the state capitol building in Lansing. Protests in Michigan and around the country have used racist imagery to attempt to force the lessening of restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“Some of the outrageousness of what happened in our capital this week, depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country,” Whitmer said on CNN’s State of the Union. “The Confederate flags and nooses, the swastikas, the, you know, behavior that you’ve seen in all of the clips, is not representative of who we are in Michigan.”

“We need to listen to the expertise and our institutions of higher learning and our health system and make decisions that are going to protect the lives of everyone,” the Democratic governor said.

She continued: “Whether you agree with me or not, I’m working to protect your life if you live in the state of Michigan.”

Armed protesters stormed the state capital on April 30 to demonstrate against the state’s stay-at-home orders, which was issued in March. Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia entered the Senate gallery and shouted at Whitmer and other politicians. State Senator Dayna Polehanki (D) tweeted a photo of the armed men.

“Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” Polehanki wrote. "Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today.”

A state of emergency in Michigan was scheduled to expire at the end of April 30, however, Whitmer signed an executive order on May 1 that put a new state of emergency in place through May 28, according to the office of the governor. Whitmer also signed executive orders placing temporary restrictions on healthcare facilities, residential care facilities and juvenile justice facilities.

COVID-19 in Michigan by the Numbers

  • 43,754 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Michigan as of May 3, according to state records.

  • More than 4,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the state of Michigan. The state’s fatality rate is at 9 percent.

  • Wayne, Michigan has the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. after New York City with 1,893 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

  • White and Black Michiganders, 33 percent and 32 percent respectively, are overwhelmingly affected by COVID-19. Both races also account for the largest shares of COVID-19 deaths, 48 percent of deaths are by white Michiganders and 41 percent are by Black Michiganders.

Protesters rally at the State Capitol in Lansing on April 30, 2020. Hoisting American flags and handmade signs, protesters returned to the state Capitol to denounce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order and business restrictions due to COVID-19 while lawmakers met to consider extending her emergency declaration hours before it expires. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Anti-Semitism and Racism In Other State’s Protests

The racist and anti-Semitic imagery seen in Michigan has also been seen in other anti-lockdown protests around the country. In Illinois, a woman holding a sign with a Nazi slogan was photographed by registered nurse Dennis Kosuth at the “Re-open Illinois” event.

Kosuth caught the woman wearing a U.S. flag mask and holding a sign in German that said, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work will set you free.” The phrase should sound familiar. Nazi’s posted the phrase above concentration camps, including Auschwitz in Poland, during the Holocaust.

The nurse told NBC News that the unidentified woman claimed she was not a Nazi and that she has Jewish friends. The woman’s sign was quickly condemned by the Auschwitz Museum and by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who is Jewish.

“Those words became one of the icons of human hatred,” the Auschwitz Museum tweeted. “It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration.”

In a statement posted on May 2, Pritzker said he would defend “to the death [protesters’] right to be wrong and to say it out loud.”

“I’ve spent decades of my life fighting against bigotry & hatred,” he continued, noting his role in building the Illinois Holocaust Museum. “The meaning of that swastika is apparently unknown to the people who are carrying it, or if it is known, it’s a demonstration of the hate that is among us.”

Meanwhile, in Idaho, an anti-government extremist blamed Jewish people for the Holocaust and compared the government’s measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus with the Nazi genocide. Ammon Bundy, best known for his armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, gave a speech at a rally on May 2, HuffPost reported.

Bundy told the crowd he is always amazed by the photos of the victims of the Holocaust lined up, facing a mass grave before being shot to death. “When you have faced so much tyranny in your life, there is a point when you would rather line up naked and get shot in the head,” he said. “And my friends, why we’re here today right now is to make sure that never happens!”

He went on to argue that Jews allowed themselves to be massacred by Nazis because of their complacency. “And that is a decision that we have to make right now,” Bundy said. “Are we better to just comply?”

Action Steps

  • ADL Michigan urges individuals to report hate when it happens and to encourage others to do the same. All hate crimes should be reported to the local police department, but people who experience or witness hate crimes in Michigan can reach the Attorney General’s Office at

  • The State of Michigan established a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Initiative to provide food and water, education support for children and other essentials during the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative gives resources for monetary donations, material donations, blood or plasma donations, as well as a job portal for health care jobs. To learn more about the initiative, visit the website here.


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About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.