Michigan GOP Chair Karamo repeatedly defends linking Holocaust to gun reform bills
The Michigan Republican Party garnered widespread condemnation and pushback Wednesday after a social media post explicitly linked the Holocaust to gun reform legislation introduced by legislative Democrats in the wake of the Feb. 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University.
The House bills received the backing from a wide variety of individuals and groups, including former Republican U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and David Trott of Birmingham. Bills have passed the Michigan Senate and House this month, with the House on Wednesday also approving safe storage bills.
The package would mandate universal background checks for all guns (currently, only the purchase of handguns requires a background check in Michigan), require that gun owners safely store firearms that could be accessed by minors, and permit a court to use “extreme risk protection orders,” also known as “red flag” laws, to temporarily remove firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The meme, posted to both the Michigan GOP’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, used a picture from the U.S. National Archives of wedding rings removed by Germans from Holocaust victims with text that read: “Before they collected all these wedding rings … They collected all the guns.”
Under Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany systematically murdered more than 6 million Jews in death camps during World War II between 1941 and 1945. Known as “The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem,” it was the culmination of brutal policies that began under Hitler in 1933. Beyond the Holocaust, the Nazis also persecuted and killed others, including LGBTQ+ people, Roma and disabled people.
Almost immediately, outrage poured down on the Michigan GOP, much of it from fellow Republicans.
Michigan Republican political consultant Stu Sandler, who is Jewish, said the comparison between gun legislation and the Holocaust was beyond the pale.
“There are standards of human decency that we should all respect,” he tweeted. “You can be passionate about an issue and be civil. There are several things to compare a policy position to without invoking the holocaust, slavery, internment camps and other atrocities.”
Matt Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said on Twitter: “This tweet by @MIGOP is absolutely inappropriate and offensive and should be taken down immediately.”
Meghan Reckling, former chair of the Livingston County Republican Party and chief of staff to state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), tweeted criticism of the post that avoided its actual content, but instead said it was incongruous with the role of the Michigan GOP.
“State Party only has two main jobs,” said Reckling. “1. Raise Money 2. Win Elections. Memes like this don’t help further either of those goals.”
Some Democrats were direct in their criticism of Karamo, who last month won the post in a crowded field after losing her 2022 election to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson by 14 points. Karamo continues to refuse to concede.
“There is no depth to the pit from which Kristina Karamo operates @MIGOP,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) 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.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, called the post “disgusting rhetoric,” but said it was not strictly the result of Karamo’s election as GOP chair.
“Let’s be clear: this is not the result of new, more extreme leadership at the party,” said Scott. “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. This is all while their current chair spoke at a QAnon conference and made antisemitic statements on the campaign trail last year.”
Karamo spent Wednesday defending the post, first with a statement that included attacks against Democrats on slavery and abortion.
“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,” she said. “Our 2nd Amendment was put in place to protect us from aspiring tyrants. MIGOP stands by our statement.”
Karamo later in the day held a press conference in Macomb County — not in Lansing where many reporters were covering the House action on gun reform bills — during which she doubled down on the rhetoric.
“One of the reasons that I am not afraid of an aspiring tyrant in our government acting out on tyrannical notions is because we have a fully functional Second Amendment,” Karamo told reporters. “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.”
She added: “I say that as a descendant of slaves, and I’m not using my African heritage as a deflection, but as a fact that also I’m part Native American. And we saw what happened in America to the Native Americans. They were rounded up and massacred. History has shown us that defenseless people are easy targets for tyrants. And that’s a fact.”
When Karamo took questions from the audience, she ended up in a debate with Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC.
“There’s a difference between learning from history and exploiting history and trivializing history,” said Lopatin. “And I want to know, did your group ask any Jews? Did you consult with Jewish people? Because our community is hurting and offended. And I’m wondering why it wasn’t taken down for some consideration? Take it down for a day, talk to people in the community and then consider putting it back. But the fact that it wasn’t even taken down when I believe you had a lot of complaints, shows a lack of sensitivity. Almost a lack, I hate to say, a lack of decency because it’s exploiting the Holocaust.”
Karamo responded to Lopatin by asking him: “Let me ask you this: Do you speak for every Jewish person?”
When Lopatin responded, “Absolutely not,” Karamo called his argument “disingenuous.”
“You speak for yourself,” she said. “There are plenty of Jewish people who agree with me. I actually challenge you on that point. That assessment is disingenuous and totally political.”
Karamo then discussed her take on “Judeo-Christian morality.”
“When our country was founded, one of the things our Founders acknowledged was that protecting our Judeo-Christian morality was critical to our freedom,” she said. “Why? They pointed to Darius the Great of Persia [who] would invade an area [and] put brothels and public houses in that community to get everyone addicted to alcohol and sex. That way they were easy to conquer. So pointing to historical events to make future political decisions is not trivializing. It. That accusation is completely disingenuous. And I would argue somewhat dishonest and purely politically motivated.”
When asked whether she was concerned that as the spokesperson for the Michigan Republican Party, the post would alienate voters from GOP candidates, Karamo said she “absolutely” did not.
Let me ask you this: Do you speak for every Jewish person?
“We’re 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. We are a party that’s inclusive. We are a party that represents every Michigander, irrespective of any factor about you. I’m here to protect your constitutional rights.”
Toward the conclusion of the press conference, Lopatin asked another question.
“Don’t you feel that there’s a lack of sensitivity in the political discourse and that we want to teach our children to disagree in a civil way, in a way that isn’t defensive?,” he asked. “I understand you don’t care if people are offended by it, but people are offended by it. So don’t you think it’s important for us as adults and as great leaders to show a civil side to the political discourse?”
Karamo refused to concede that comparing gun reform to the Holocaust was inappropriate.
“Again, I disagree with the notion that it’s not civil,” she said. “Pointing to a historical event is not trivializing it. We’re not downplaying it. We’re saying, ‘Guys, this is real.’”
Following the press conference, Progress Michigan’s Scott released a more succinct statement.
“What the actual f–k,” it said.