SALT LAKE CITY — A Piute County commissioner likened Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to Adolf Hitler after Herbert approved requests Thursday from two counties to require masks in public, saying the community should prepare to offer a “Heil Herbert” salute.
“Hang on friends, it won’t be long before you are required to do a Sieg Heil Salute to Herbert,” Commissioner Darin Bushman tweeted Thursday night. “Welcome to Utah now extend your right arm straight at 45 degrees keeping your hand parallel to your arm and offer your ‘Heil Herbert.’”
The tweet, which was accompanied by #nazi and #mask, also included a photograph of a group of people doing the Nazi salute. It was posted after Herbert approved requests from officials in Salt Lake and Summit counties to require people to wear masks in public in their counties. The mandates, which were made in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state, will go into effect Saturday.
Last week, Herbert approved moving Piute County to the green or “new normal” status. It is the least restrictive status, but residents in green areas are still encouraged to social distance, wear masks when social distancing is difficult, wash hands often, stay home when sick and check for symptoms before sporting practices or competitions.
When a reporter pointed out the shift to green on Twitter, Bushman responded, “Yes and we had to beg the overlord for permission! He had the authority to shut us down but didn’t have the guts to open us back up without having someone to blame therefore we had to ask permission.”
Herbert’s office responded to Bushman’s remark Friday, calling for civility in public discourse.
“Drawing comparisons between a widely accepted public health practice during a pandemic and Hitler’s brutal authoritarianism is beyond the pale,” Herbert’s office said in a statement. “It can only have the effect of polarizing an important and substantive policy debate. And, as has been recognized by leaders in Utah’s Jewish community, it grossly trivializes the experience of the Holocaust.”
The statement described wearing a mask as a “simple courtesy” that “may be the least invasive way of stopping the spread of the virus while opening up our economy.”
Bushman’s post promptly attracted an onslaught of attention on Twitter.
He deleted the tweet soon after, but not before others captured screenshots of the incendiary post.
“Sorry if you found my tweet offensive. I have removed it so as not to further offend,” Bushman wrote. “My apologies.”
Sorry if you found my tweet offensive. I have removed it so as not to further offend. My apologies.— Darin Bushman - (Personal Account) (@darinbushman) June 26, 2020
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani in a response on social media called his tweet “unacceptable and dangerous.” She also wrote that he should resign.
Others on Twitter and social media echoed the call.
Chase Thomas, executive director for left-leaning advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah, condemned Bushman’s remarks Friday.
“Commissioner Bushman’s horrific comparison of wearing a mask to Nazi Germany makes it clear that he lacks the moral compass needed to serve as a public official in Utah. He did not apologize for or even recant his comments,” Thomas said in a statement. “Bushman’s comments are deeply disturbing and offensive, and they are serious enough that he should remove himself from office.”
Bushman followed up his apology with a declaration that he has no intention of resigning and later doubled down on personal freedoms.
“All our freedom — personal, economic, social, political — freedom to buy, to work, to hire, to bargain, to save, to vote, to worship, to gather in convention, or join in mutual association — all these freedoms are a single bundle. Each is an indispensable part of a single whole,” Bushman wrote.
Rabbi Sam Spector, of Congregation Kol Ami, said he’s inviting Bushman to come discuss the tweet with him.
“Taking measures to protect civilians from a pandemic and save lives is not equivalent to Nazism in the least bit and we need to educate our public officials,” he wrote on Facebook.
Rabbi Spector also questioned how Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes will respond to the tweet as Bushman’s profile picture is the Hughes campaign logo.
House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, responded to the tweet describing it as a “really bad take.”
“Would it be better to tweet a bunch of Mormon scriptures and tell you you should wear masks because the church think so? Would that set better?” Bushman responded shortly after.
Rep. Patrice Arent, a Millcreek Democrat who is Jewish, also condemned Bushman’s tweet.
“It’s totally inappropriate to compare Governor Herbert, who is following the advice of medical professionals to help save lives, to the horrendous actions of Hitler,” Arent posted on Facebook. “Trivializing the Holocaust is deeply offensive and belittles the memory of millions of Jews and others who were murdered.”
The governor’s office called for local health departments and elected officials to work together and examine their situation to determine the right policies for their areas.
“Having duly elected officials work together in this fashion to promote public health, economic engagement and local control is a far cry from Naziism,” the statement said.