In a social media post last week, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, compared a speech given by President Joe Biden to one given by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1938.
The post included a photo of Hitler and a link to the text of his speech. The link went to a Holocaust-denial website.
Eastman’s comments spread on social media this week and were criticized during a Wednesday meeting of the Anchorage Caucus, a regular gathering of state legislators representing the Anchorage area.
“They’re analogizing something designed to save the lives of American citizens to an undemocratic, fascist regime that was bent on killing 6 million Europeans. I just don’t understand the linkage. And by the way, it’s offensive as hell,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage.
“I think it’s a problematic comparison,” said Rep. James Kaufman, R-Anchorage.
Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, said using a Nazi analogy is “scorched earth” for any conversation. “That’s like throwing a pretty big grenade into the group.”
House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, denounced the comparison, and House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said the comparison doesn’t represent the views of her legislative caucus, which includes Eastman.
The Anti-Defamation League, a group devoted to fighting antisemitism, has seen a growing number of comments similar to Eastman’s, said Miri Cypers, a spokeswoman for the organization.
“I don’t often see public officials quoting Hitler. But we have in recent times absolutely seen an uptick in rhetoric from elected officials around the Holocaust,” she said.
Eastman has previously compared COVID-19 vaccination efforts to Nazi medical experiments during the Holocaust. Other members of the Alaska Legislature have done the same, including Reps. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, and Ron Gillham, R-Soldotna.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, incorrectly said the Nazi experiments were “violations of human dignity, of scientific methodology, yet they produced results.” She apologized on social media, saying her remarks were “incorrect, insensitive and hurtful.”
“In the case of COVID-19 health restrictions, we’re unfortunately seeing far too many elected officials use inappropriate and offensive references,” Cypers said.
“The Holocaust was a tragic event involving the genocide of millions upon millions of people — 6 million Jews and millions of others — and likening it to a public health response to an emerging pandemic is just extremely inappropriate. And it’s also just really offensive to the Jewish community and the memory of this tragic time in our own history,” she said.
On Sept. 9, Biden criticized the millions of Americans who have remained unvaccinated.
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said.
Eastman’s post did not mention the president by name but quoted a speech from a time when Hitler was threatening war over Czechoslovakia and said his patience was wearing thin.
“No idea what made me remember this speech the other day,” Eastman wrote.
Contacted Thursday, Eastman said the post “was just pointing out that Biden’s comments were eerily reminiscent of comments made long ago, which we would all do well to know so that we can learn from the tragedies of World War II.”
Asked whether his thoughts have changed since his post, he didn’t answer directly but said, “Anyone who sets aside and disregards history is doomed to repeat it. And so that’s something for all of us to keep in mind.”
Anchorage resident Ivan Hodes is Jewish and a graduate of West Point. He served in the same U.S. Army battalion with Eastman and discussed the Wasilla representative’s social media post during the Anchorage Caucus meeting.
He said it’s completely unacceptable for a legislator to encourage Holocaust denial.
“The fact that he is familiar with this website, that he’s posting links to the website where his followers are going to go click on it, I think that shows what his agenda really is,” Hodes said by phone on Thursday.
Dan Miller, president of the West Point Society of Alaska, said Eastman has been disinvited from future society events unless he removes the link to the Holocaust denial website and refrains from similar actions. Eastman had previously attended those events, he said.
Eastman said on Thursday that he was unaware that he linked to a Holocaust denial website.
“I know nothing about websites other than the specific link that translates the speech into English. So I don’t have any comment about that,” he said.
Asked whether he is a Holocaust denialist himself, he said, “No, there’s nothing to deny. But I do support and defend free speech, because if we can’t talk about those atrocities, then it increases chance they’ll continue.”
Eastman has a history of inflammatory public remarks. In 2017, the Alaska House voted to reprimand him after he claimed women in rural villages try to get pregnant so they can get a free trip to the city for an abortion. He attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., supporting then-President Donald Trump, and promoted the debunked theory that undercover antifa agents were responsible for the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol that day.