Many Alaskans from throughout the state have watched in horror over the past two nights as a rabidly anti-mask mob—hopped up on hate, junk science and pizza provided by Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson—have assailed the Anchorage Assembly with testimony that has included overt antisemitism in rampant Holocaust comparisons, homophobic slurs, Satanic conspiracy theories and death threats.
For most, this scourge of anger and disruptions has been a deeply disturbing display. It’s prompted reasonable questions about how we back away from the brink and return to a place where differences could be settled without referring to a gay assemblymember as a “cocksucker” or brandishing a Star of David at a Jewish assemblymember (perhaps a place that never existed in the first place).
But as the fight over the Assembly’s mask mandate stretches into its third day, it’s increasingly clear that this is precisely the goal of Anchorage Mayor Bronson, extreme-right Assemblymember Jamie Allard, and their enablers, and the reason why the administration has shown little interest in slowing the spread of the pandemic.
The anger and hate, a logical continuation from years of careful cultivation by extreme-right forces on the national and local levels, has proven to be a useful tool to activate the base and scare away opponents. Bronson rode that wave of anger and hate to the mayor’s office and now he’s turning it on the Assembly, working up a sea of Red Shirts—some adorned with Stars of David and others with firearms—by opening the meeting with a call to “stand with me!”
The pandemic has proven to be a seemingly endless well of extreme-right rage—better than Benghazi, QAnon and critical race theory hysteria all rolled into one—so why would he have any interest in capping it? After all, there’s a recall election targeting a co-sponsor of the mask mandate—which his administration is working to promote—and a high-stakes election coming up next spring.
And it’s not just about riling up the base, but about threatening their opponents into submission. Bronson’s Red Shirts point to their sea of in-person testimony as proof they represent the majority, ignoring the fact that many have looked at the meetings—seen the mask-less faces, the screaming, the slurs, heard that assemblymembers have to be escorted to their cars, and, as of Wednesday night, seen the image of a concealed handgun—and stayed home rather than risk it.
Bronson may preach freedom, but he’s meeting these suppressive anti-democratic tactics with, at best, a wink and a nod.
As members of the Assembly and public recoiled at the Red Shirts’ use of the Star of David and Holocaust imagery—pleading with them to understand how deeply troubling and offensive their likening the systematic extermination of millions of Jewish people to the mild inconvenience of wearing a mask is—Bronson didn’t even have the decency to pretend to be repelled by the stench of antisemitism. Instead, he offered a full-throated endorsement of the actions.
“We’ve referenced the Star of David quite a bit here tonight, but there was a formal message that came out within Jewish culture about that and the message was, ‘never again.’ That’s an ethos. And that’s what that star really means is, ‘We will not forget, this will never happen again.’ And I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them,” Bronson said.
Ah, yes, that’s why those stars were brandished at Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish, and why his calls for civility and respect were met with more derision and interruptions.
“It was heart-wrenching for me when I noticed individuals were wearing yellow Stars of David, mimicking my Jewish ancestors who perished during the Holocaust,” Dunbar read during the meeting, quoting his rabbi, Abram Goodstein. “For myself and most Jews, seeing the yellow Star of David on someone’s chest elicits the same feeling as seeing a swastika on a flag or the SS insignia on a uniform. It is a symbol of hate that reminds us Jews of the terror and horror we suffered. I believe it is a constitutional right to protest for your values. But I request that you do not use symbols that diminish the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.”
Only in the light of day—away from the mob and facing increasing pushback for his naked endorsement of clearly antisemitic scare tactics—did the Bronson administration issue a tepid statement that “if I offended anyone, I am truly sorry.” In it, he has the temerity to call on both sides to be more civil. It’s the sort of milquetoast statement that offers those who don’t want to confront the ugliness of it all an excuse to look away (see, he didn’t mean to belittle the death of millions of Jews and, hey, those in support of the mask mandate were actually pretty rude, too) while for the rest of us—our Jewish neighbors especially—the Red Shirts, the death threats made tangible and the Stars of David send a perfectly clear message.