Despite the months of pundits and reporters arguing that wearing a face mask shouldn’t be a political statement, there’s a select few assholes who think taking basic measures to keep the current global pandemic from raging on is an affront to their civil liberties, rather than, y’know, common courtesy.
Then, there’s the people who actually try to turn it into a political statement in all the wrong ways. Case in point: yesterday, Minnesota resident Raphaela Mueller snapped a now viral video of two Walmart shoppers who responded to the chain’s mandatory mask policy by wearing masks featuring the Nazi flag. When Mueller’s partner, Benjamin Ruesch, called the pair “sick,” they flipped him off.
While Walmart’s been mandating mask-wearing since July 20th, the state of Minnesota only begrudgingly began enforcing their own mandate this past weekend, requiring that a mask or face covering be worn in businesses and “indoor public spaces.” This comes after close to five thousand folks in the state have been diagnosed with covid-19 since the first local case was documented back in March, with more than 1,600 of those cases being fatal. The same weekend that Mueller was being flipped off in her local Walmart, the state reported thirteen deaths from the disease.
But more dangerous than that, according to the pair being filmed, is the creeping threat of communism that a mask mandate represents. “I’m trying to tell people what’s going to happen in America,” the woman in the video said. “If you vote for Biden, you’re going to be living in Nazi Germany. That’s what it’s going to be like.”
As her fellow swastika-wearing comrade finished checking out behind her, he added that we’re all “living under a socialist state,” while paying for a trip picking up what looks like a tub of cheese puffs, a bottle of Pepsi, and a loaf of white bread, along with a few rolls of toilet paper.
When one of the other Walmart-goers listening in on the exchange told the pair that he “didn’t want [the couple] in our neighborhood,” the woman angrily snapped back that he didn’t “get it.”
“I’m not a Nazi,” she shouted back mid-video. “I’m trying to tell you that if you vote for Biden, this is what you’re gonna have.”
Alrighty then. However you feel about Nazi Germany, presidential hopeful Joe Biden, or this woman’s dietary choices, you can’t argue that she got reaction she was looking for. Aside from getting a hefty trespassing fine by local police, by Monday, the initial video racked up thousands of comments on Facebook, and more than a few write-ups in a slew of outlets. Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz called the pair “disgraceful.” Walmart banned the couple from shopping in their stores for “at least a year.”
And while the woman might’ve barked about how her choice to fly an obvious Nazi symbol was more of a comment on the Democratic party than the Nazi party, I still felt a weird chill while watching this video. Like most people of Jewish descent, I’ve had more than a few branches of my family tree brutally murdered during the Third Reich. And like most people who were raised with the religion, I’m always waiting for the next vandal or gunman to hit the places where my family and friends regularly gather to pray.
This year, leaders in the Jewish community—including some in the places where I grew up—have started working with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security at unprecedented rates, and as the Star Tribune reported earlier this year, some of these folks are scared to even mention these sorts of details since doing so could, in theory, make these locales even bigger targets.
And they have reason to worry. Back in May, the Anti-Defamation League noted anti-Semitic attacks and assaults in the U.S. reached their highest rate ever last year. In Minnesota, the state where this couple felt comfortable letting their Nazi flags fly, the ADL have tracked more than a dozen anti-Semitic attacks this year alone. Much of this, ironically enough, stems from the far-right bubbles that blame the Jewish community for the virus in the first place, which are the same sort of bubbles this pair could belong to.
That said, I’m totally willing to give this woman the benefit of the doubt on the whole Nazi-sympathizer thing. The only question I have—especially since Minnesota only started picking up masks this weekend—is why they just had some Swastika-masks conveniently ready to go in the first place.