Michigan GOP’s Holocaust post shows growing far-right extremism in the party, experts say
There is a phrase that political experts, Jewish leaders and elected officials repeatedly used when responding to Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo’s vehement defense of the party’s social media posts linking the Holocaust to gun reform bills introduced in the wake of the Michigan State University mass shooting: “I am not surprised.”
Disgusted, yes. Outraged, yes. But surprised, no.
“I think it was intentional, and she’s using the same tactics that she used when she got elected as a state party chair, which is fear and divisiveness,” said former U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, a Republican who served in Congress from 2015 to 2019. “So I’m not surprised she’s doing more of the same.”
On Wednesday, the Michigan Republican Party posted a meme on its Facebook and Twitter accounts depicting a photo from the U.S. National Archives of wedding rings that Nazis removed from Holocaust victims with text that read: “Before they collected all these wedding rings … They collected all the guns.”
Above the meme, the party added: “History has shown us that the first thing a government does when it wants total control over its people is to disarm them.”
The post from the Republican Party in one of the largest swing states in the country was immediately criticized by many Jewish leaders, civil rights groups and elected officials as minimizing and misappropriating the Holocaust for Republicans’ political gain and as egregiously disrespectful to the 11 million people murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews. It comes as gun reform bills make their way through the Legislature after two mass shootings in Michigan.
“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I can’t,” Marla Linderman-Richelew, the interim chair of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus and a civil rights attorney, said of the state GOP’s post. “It is such a dangerous road to go down. It minimizes the Holocaust and creates this false narrative. Trying to keep guns out of the hands of people at an extreme risk of committing violence against themselves or guns isn’t comparable to the evil done by the Nazis.
“Who are the Nazis in this analogy?” she continued. “The students at Oxford or the parents who want this [mass shootings] never to happen again? The message the GOP is sending is they value protecting shooters over our children, families and communities in Michigan. They’re using the horror of the Holocaust to harm the people we need to protect the most.”
A Nov. 30, 2021, mass shooting at Oxford High School killed four students.
Introduced in the wake of three students being killed in a Feb. 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University, the bills now making their way through the state Legislature would mandate universal background checks for all guns, require that gun owners safely store firearms that could be accessed by minors, and permit a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.
Democratic lawmakers have uniformly supported the bills; Republicans largely have not.
Following the Michigan GOP’s post garnering national attention, including widespread criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike — though there has been no official response from GOP lawmakers in the state House or Senate — Karamo and the state Republican Party doubled down on the comments.
The Michigan Republican Party said in a follow-up tweet that the barrage of criticism they received over their comments amounts to a “bogus authoritarian frenzy” and Karamo wrote on social media that her “response to the media labeling me a bigot” is that “our 2nd Amendment was put in place to protect us from aspiring tyrants.”
“MIGOP stands by our statement,” Karamo wrote.
During a press conference held by the Michigan GOP in Macomb County on Wednesday evening, Karamo sparred with Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee over the party’s comments.
“There’s a difference between learning from history and exploiting history and trivializing history,” Lopatin told Karamo. “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.”
In response, Karamo said to the rabbi: “Let me ask you this: Do you speak for every Jewish person?”
“Absolutely not,” Loptatin responded, after which Karamo called his argument “disingenuous.”
State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who is Jewish, called Karamo’s response to the rabbi “heinous.”
“Rabbi Lopatin speaks for me,” said Moss.
The Michigan GOP did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
I don’t know whether to be disgusted that Kristina Karamo is chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, or relieved that delegates have chosen a leader that shows everyone else what the Republican Party has become.
For experts on the Holocaust and political extremism, politicians and Jewish leaders, the lack of surprise over the Michigan GOP’s statement and Karamo’s subsequent defense is multilayered and rooted in a variety of criticisms and concerns.
They note Karamo’s long history of antisemitic and far-right comments, the far-right extremism that has been growing in the U.S. and taken root in the state and national Republican Party, a nationwide rise in antisemitism and inadequate education about the Holocaust, and a deluge of far-right misinformation and disinformation meant to sway a public whose ability to accurately analyze information has been significantly weakened in part by social media algorithms catered to views and not accuracy.
“What we’re seeing from Karamo and these freaks — it’s not a political party anymore,” Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who is now with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said of the state GOP. “It’s an anti-American, authoritarian movement that’s wearing the masquerade of a political party. We need to stop treating this as politics and recognize it for the domestic terrorist threat that it is.”
Karamo’s long history of anti-Jewish bigotry
Published the day before the Anti-Defamation League issued an audit reporting that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. hit the highest level ever recorded in 2022, the Michigan GOP’s statements follow a trend of anti-Jewish and far-right comments from Karamo.
The recently elected chair of the state Republican Party, Karamo has been one of Michigan’s most vocal and high profile 2020 election deniers — she launched her failed bid for Michigan secretary of state largely on the coattails of her devotion to the thoroughly disproven conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen. Biden defeated Trump by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan.
Karamo, who Trump endorsed, lost by a 14-point margin to Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in November’s election. She still refuses to concede.
The new Michigan GOP chair’s social media accounts and general rhetoric have long been laden with antisemitic dog whistles — such as invoking George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist who often gives money to liberal causes, as a puppet master controlling the strings of left-wing government and media.
Before the election, Karamo wrote in a Feb. 15, 2022, tweet that Benson, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Democratic Attorney General Dan Nessel “ALL are Soros funded and are his minions.”
In an April 2022 Facebook post, Karamo wrote that Benson’s campaign had been dropping “socialist buzz words” like QAnon and the “Big Lie” and that she “cannot WAIT to be your endorsed nominee … and take the fight directly to George Soros and his crony Secretary of State #BadBenson.”
Karamo also has repeatedly signaled her affinity for QAnon, a conspiracy theory rooted in antisemitic and white supremacist tropes, and spoke at a QAnon conference in October 2021. QAnon is a far right-wing conspiracy theory that revolves around Trump hunting down and eventually killing Democratic politicians and wealthy liberals who are essentially a shadow world government that control global economic systems and lead double lives as Satan-worshiping cannibals running a child-sex trafficking ring.
This antisemitic rhetoric includes Karamo regularly using the term “globalist,” including in a recent interview with MLive, which is frequently deployed by Trump and other high-profile Republicans.
Trump, for example, blamed the FBI searching his Mar-a-Lago estate on “globalists.” The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt explained that the term “globalist” originates from “a reference to Jewish people who are seen as having allegiances not to their countries of origin like the United States but to some global conspiracy.”
Alon Milwicki, a senior research analyst at Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based civil rights organization that studies political extremism across the country, said this antisemitic language is used to perpetuate the long and dangerously espoused conspiracy theory that Jews control the world’s governmental and financial systems.
“The image of George Soros holding puppet strings — that’s straight-up Nazi imagery,” said Milwicki, who studies white supremacy and neo-Nazism. “When it’s about control of society, control of money — who’s the most consistent group accused of all of that? Jews.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a Lansing-based nonprofit that promotes progressive policy in the state, said the antisemitic rhetoric from the Michigan GOP and Karamo “is not a new phenomenon” among Republicans but is “being broadcast in a more disgusting and vile way.
“Antisemitism is on the rise in this country; people’s lives are put at risk when this stuff goes unchecked,” Scott said. “It’s disgusting the party lets it happen.”
I think it was intentional, and she’s using the same tactics that she used when she got elected as a state party chair, which is fear and divisiveness. So I’m not surprised she’s doing more of the same.
Antisemitic incidents “surged to historic levels in 2022,” the Anti-Defamation League reported on Thursday. There were a total of 3,697 incidents reported across the U.S. in 2022, a 36% increase compared to 2021. That’s the highest number recorded by the ADL, which began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. In Michigan, there were 93 antisemitic incidents in 2022, which is a slight dip from 103 in 2021. Those numbers are significantly higher than the 44 incidents reported in 2020 and the 32 in 2019.
Some national Republicans, including from the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and GOP political figures in Michigan, such as ex-gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke and former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), have lambasted the state GOP’s comments.
“Who in their right mind would draw such a twisted comparison?” Rinke tweeted. “Who in their right mind would ‘double down’ and tell our Jewish friends not to be offended by the comparison? What did the comparison do to bring the issue of good or bad legislation, right or wrong, to the people of Michigan? For our state party leader to say her words represent the ‘new’ Republican Party in Michigan is disturbing at best.”
During Wednesday evening’s press conference in Macomb, Karamo said, “We’re a different Republican Party” when asked if the post would alienate the GOP from voters.
“We are not the Republican Party who apologizes and runs away from our positions,” she said. “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.”
The RJC, meanwhile, tweeted, “Chairwoman @KristinaKaramo’s doubling down on this disgusting and inappropriate content is a sad day for @MIGOP.”
Unlike their national counterparts, state Republican lawmakers have largely remained silent. There have been no official statements posted to the Senate or House GOP websites.
Michigan Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) and House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
“The silence of Republicans is deafening,” Timmer said. “Unless they distance themselves from this, they’re complicit. And they already are complicit: The reason these freaks have taken over is because of weak, cowardly leaders in the Republican Party.”
Moss echoed a similar sentiment.
“I don’t know whether to be disgusted that Kristina Karamo is chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, or relieved that delegates have chosen a leader that shows everyone else what the Republican Party has become,” Moss said. “To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle: If you don’t want to be a part of this new Republican Party, then speak out. But we are one month into Kristina Karamo’s tenure as chair, if you remain silent, it doesn’t get any better from here.”
Karamo’s allegiance to political extremism doesn’t stop at antisemitism. She has espoused anti-LGBTQ, white supremacist, sexist, and Christian nationalist ideas prior to her campaign — such as on her self-described evangelical Christian podcast, “It’s Solid Food,” — during her campaign and, now, as Michigan GOP chair.
In a September 2020 episode of her podcast, Karamo claimed that those who attended the 2017 Women’s March protests were “addicted to porn.” She has called abortion “child sacrifice,” has railed against premarital sex, alleging it’s the result of “satanic influences,” and has repeatedly issued slurs against the LGBTQ+ community.
On her podcast, she dismissed the high rate of LGBTQ+ youth suicide.
“The media is deceiving the public saying, ‘Oh, well, you look at the suicide rate. Look at the suicide rate it’s because of stigma.’ Stigma? How about the act itself is simply not natural?”
That Karamo is now head of the GOP and the Republican Party is issuing social media posts equating the Holocaust with gun reform is “beyond what I could have ever imagined,” Scott said.
“The party has done this to themselves by accepting the idea of promoting falsehoods, like the election was stolen,” Scott said. “…The only way it stops is when they have the courage to say, ‘Enough is enough; this is wrong; these are lies.”
Antisemitism’s home among hate groups
Milwicki, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it’s not surprising that Karamo’s antisemitism is accompanied by a wide range of bigotry.
Antisemitism, he wrote in an essay for Southern Poverty Law Center, “serves as a motivating ideology and connective tissue between hate groups that would otherwise seem unconnected.
“It also erodes democracy and creates divisions among those who must work together to dismantle structural racism in our system,” Milwicki continued.
Antisemitism is an “animating base line that connects all white supremacy or othering groups, from the anti-LGBTQ to anti-immigrant to straight-up neo-Nazi,” Milwicki, who received his doctorate studying white supremacy and neo-Nazism, told the Advance.
In other words, Milwicki said, if you “peel back the layers” of almost any hate group, you’ll almost inevitably discover antisemitism. Jessica Reaves, a political extremism expert with the Anti-Defamation League, also noted this in previous interviews with the Advance. Misogyny, Reaves said, is an extremist ideology that’s “often interwoven with tenets of white supremacy” and antisemitism.
Timmer emphasized it’s not just Karamo espousing fringe ideas — he pointed out that Michigan GOP Co-Chair Malinda Pego, for example,this week shared a Three Percenters image on social media.
Three Percenterism is a “sub-ideology” that “falls within the larger anti-government militia movement,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rooted in white supremacy ideology, Three Percenters typically argue that the U.S. government — especially under Democratic leadership — has become tyrannical and that a small force of armed individuals can overthrow this tyrannical government.
“It’s entirely unsurprising, but I don’t think it has anything to do with Karamo’s leadership,” Timmer said of the GOP’s post. “It has to do with what a supermajority of [GOP] delegates think — they think in these bigoted, racist, ‘Three Percenters’ tropes”
“It indicates where a plurality of Republican voters are — I don’t think the majority of Republican voters support this,” Timmer continued.
Trott, the former Republican congressman, said that the Republican Party, under Karamo, “is dead.
“She won’t be able to put an organization together or raise money to have any kind of effective state party,” he said. “The only thing that could maybe save the party is if she resigned.”
Independent voters will not back Karamo, especially in the wake of this post, Trott said.
“She has no chance of connecting with independent voters in Michigan, who decide the general elections,” Trott said. “If she thinks that somehow this post is going to cause independent voters to somehow relook at the GOP, then that’s just delusional.
“As far as the base, I think probably she’s wrong there, as well,” he continued. “I think some members of the base will look at these tweets and say, ‘Gosh, they really are despicable and maybe we were wrong in supporting her, or maybe we have to rethink how we’re going to vote in 2024.’”
The GOP’s Holocaust post also is paving the way for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) to win the race for retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat, Trott argued.
“I mean, if I’m Slotkin, I’m already trying to figure out where my office is going to be in which Senate building. I mean, it’s over. How could you possibly recruit a serious candidate for the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race with Karamo making those kinds of statements?”
A need for Holocaust education
Holocaust expert Jeffrey Veidlinger, a University of Michigan history and Judaic studies professor, emphasized that not only was the GOP’s post “offensive and deeply disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust,” it was also “factually wrong.”
“That was not the first thing Nazis did,” he said, referring to the Michigan GOP’s statement that “history has shown us that the first thing a government does when it wants total control over its people is to disarm them.”
“They had already stripped Jews of citizenship and barred Jews from professional service, barred Jews from medicine and dentistry and schools,” Veidlinger said.
Additionally, Veidlinger said, Nazis loosened gun control laws for themselves but tightened them for Jewish individuals.
This ignorance — intentional or not — must be addressed through education, Milwicki said.
“I remember asking a class what Auschwitz was, and two out of 25 [students] had heard of it,” he said. “That’s a failure of our education system.”
Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps; more than 1.1 million people were murdered there.
It is such a dangerous road to go down. It minimizes the Holocaust and creates this false narrative. Trying to keep guns out of the hands of people at an extreme risk of committing violence against themselves or guns isn’t comparable to the evil done by the Nazis.
According to a nationwide survey released in 2020, more than one in 10 adults under the age of 40 could not recall hearing the word “Holocaust” before. Of those surveyed, 63% did not know six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and about half of the survey participants could not name a concentration camp or ghetto — over 40,000 of which were established during World War II.
“Education is the only way through this stuff,” Milwicki said. “Open, honest education. And when you think about it, what’s being attacked more than anything else? All these anti-LGBTQ [politicians], they’re all attacking what? They’re all attacking schools. Look at how many books related to the Holocaust are being banned. It’s all interconnected.”
Milwicki brought up Republicans’ attacks on critical race theory (CRT), a graduate-level academic theory that encourages students to analyze how institutionalized racism impacts the United States.
“You can’t shy away from hard histories,” Milwicki said.
“Relativizing the Holocaust diminishes the experience of survivors, it diminishes what the world was culpable of, and I think it lessens our ability to look at other acts like slavery or westward expansion or Jim Crow. It lessens our ability to look at those honestly.”
Linderman-Richelew also emphasized the need for education to combat the rising antisemitism that included federal authorities’ recent announcement that a Michigan man has been charged with threatening to kill Nessel and other Jewish elected officials across the state.
“There needs to be more education and communication,” she said. “The Jewish community sometimes prefers to handle some of the antisemitism internally because we don’t want to give it oxygen, but it’s gotten to the point where we need to speak up about it.
“I can’t tell you how many places I’m starting to see this — we see it in the schools; we see it in our government,” Linderman-Richelew continued, referring to antisemitism. “… We need to speak up when someone says the Holocaust is the same as asking someone to put their gun away.”
Advance reporter Laina G. Stebbins contributed to this story.