Republican candidate for governor Joe Blystone address a small crowd at a Freedom Rally October 17, 2021, at the Rotary Gazebo in Court Square in Coshocton, Ohio. The rally, organized by New Beginnings Ministries of Warsaw was at times a campaign event, a rally against COVID-19 mandates and often resembled an evangelistic revival meeting. A small group of local healthcare workers, educators and professionals counterprotested across the street. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal.)
Update, 1:40 p.m.: After this article was published, Blystone removed the photo in question from social media. Also, a union depicted in the photo said it did not endorse Blystone and doesn’t know who’s holding the swastika.
A longshot candidate challenging Ohio’s incumbent governor in a Republican primary shared a photo of himself in front of a sign depicting an image of syringes arranged as a swastika — the chosen symbol of Nazi Germany as it waged a systematic slaughter of millions of Jews and others in Europe.
Joe Blystone, a cattle farmer often seen campaigning in a cowboy hat and bushy beard, posted a photo Friday on his campaign’s Twitter account. It shows him standing in front of a banner for a local of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.
Behind him, a man holds a sign reading “NO JAB NO JOB” — presumably a statement in opposition to employers requiring vaccination as a term of employment. That sign shows the swastika-syringes image.
Blystone’s campaign did not respond to questions about why Blystone is distributing a photo of himself in front of Nazi imagery. After this story published, he deleted some social media posts containing the photo, although it still remains on his website as of about 1:40 p.m.
John Cash, president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 900, said the photo was taken at a rally. However, he said the union has not endorsed Blystone and is not in any way affiliated with him. He said he and other union officials have no idea who the individual is holding up the swastika.
In a March interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Blystone said he’s not opposed to vaccines.
“I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-mask. I’m pro-choice,” he said. “If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you want to get a vax, get a vax. It shouldn’t be our government pushing you one way or another.”
Both Blystone and challenger Jim Renacci are seeking to oust incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine in the Republican primary. Election Day is Tuesday, May 3. The Republican victor will take on one of two candidates running for the Democratic ticket.
The photo follows a pattern of Nazi imagery and rhetoric popping up in conservative political demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions and vaccine mandates.
In April 2020, Ohio Senator Andrew Brenner pledged not to allow Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton to turn the state into Nazi Germany. Rep. Kris Jordan connected masks, vaccines, and vaccination records to the Holocaust. U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel made similar comments. Rep. Nino Vitale called Acton, who is Jewish, a “globalist health director.” The term “globalist” is used as an anti-Semitic slur. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson compared a requirement to show proof of vaccination for bars and restaurants in Washington D.C. to Nazi officials demanding identification from Jewish citizens.
Meanwhile, citizens have been seen hoisting Nazi imagery outside the Statehouse during a coronavirus protest and a sign with a swastika at an anti-vaccine protest outside of a League of Women Voters event. One alleged neo-Nazi with a criminal history was seen during the lockdown protests of April 2020 holding a sign showing a picture of a rat with the Star of David on its side and “The Real Plague” above it. At an anti-mask demonstration at a September 2021 schoolboard meeting in Worthington, two demonstrators were accused of performing Nazi salutes, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
“Medical procedures designed to save lives are not comparable to the Holocaust, in which six million Jews and millions of others were murdered,” said Sara Scheinbach, a senior associate regional director of the Cleveland region of the Anti-Defamation League, which advocates against anti-Semitism.
“All leaders, especially politicians, should call out these obscene comparisons, rather than celebrate them.”
Nazi officials implemented rules forcing Jewish people to wear identifying badges between 1939 and 1945, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. It was part of a campaign to stigmatize and dehumanize Jews and segregate and control them before deporting them to concentration camps.
The museum spoke out against a national leader of the anti-vaccination movement who said at a rally that things are worse today than they were for Anne Frank, a teenaged girl who died along with most her family during the Holocaust.
“Making reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, for a political agenda is outrageous and deeply offensive,” the museum said in a statement. “Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate.”
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