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‘Needle Nazis,’ ‘medical brown shirts,’ Mengele and Stars of David: How Nazi-coronavirus comparisons have proliferated on the right

A protester holds up a poster reading “Against Coronazis” during a demonstration in Germany. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has generally taken a hands-off approach to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). But for a fleeting moment in May, it seemed, Greene had gone too far. After she made two comparisons between coronavirus restrictions and Nazi Germany, McCarthy issued an uncharacteristically stern rebuke: “Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling.”

A few weeks later, Greene visited the Holocaust Museum and apologized. But just a few weeks after that, she was back to comparing coronavirus vaccination efforts to the Nazis — citing “medical brown shirts” — this time with virtually no pushback from GOP leaders.

The episode was an enlightening one in a party whose leaders have all but given up trying to rein in the extremists in their midst (to the extent they actually want to). Most efforts are cursory; virtually all are for naught. The likes of Greene just keep prodding and provoking, daring them to do something about it — the latest examples being Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert’s likening of a Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), to a terrorist and Greene’s ugly feud with Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Greene now says she is the party’s base, not the fringe; Republicans leaders are clearly reckoning with that.

So increasingly, they just let it happen. The result is that the behavior proliferates. And proliferate it has — particularly when it comes to the kind of Nazi-coronavirus comparisons Greene made, which have been mainstreamed more and more in the conservative movement.

Regular Fox News pundit Lara Logan this week became the latest to go down this road, comparing Anthony S. Fauci to Nazi scientist Josef Mengele and his cruel medical experiments on Jews — although her actual argument and logic were difficult to follow. They, too, have been effectively shrugged at by the country’s leading source of news for conservatives.

But Logan and Greene are hardly alone. Here are the growing number of entries in the American right’s increasing comparisons between Nazi Germany and anti-coronavirus efforts:

Greene’s fellow House Republicans

  • Boebert called those going door-to-door promoting vaccination “needle Nazis.”
  • Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said proposals for so-called vaccine passports “smack of 1940s Nazi Germany.” He added: “We must make every effort to keep America from becoming a ‘show your papers society.’ ”
  • Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) compared criticism of anti-lockdown advocates and of Donald Trump’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine to Nazi book burnings.

GOP candidates

  • Josh Mandel, a leading GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, tweeted of vaccine passports, “We’ve seen this before... Nazi Germany also registered citizens.”
  • Trump-backed Wisconsin House candidate Derrick Van Orden said contact tracing was “what the KGB used to do in the Soviet Union and the Stasi used to do in East Germany — that is neighbors spying on neighbors.” He agreed with a podcast host who said “the Nazis did the same thing.”
  • Other GOP candidates have likened vaccine passports and mandates to Nazi Germany and even suggested there would be Nazi-style “internment camps” for the unvaccinated.

State parties

State lawmakers


An earlier version of this article misidentified the mayor of Anchorage. The mayor is Dave Bronson. The article has been corrected.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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