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Wisconsin lawmaker under fire for comparing museum to Nazis over mask policy

Shae Sortwell urged to apologize after likening children’s museum to Gestapo for asking visitors to show proof of vaccination or wear a mask, but he refuses to back down

Wisconsin state rep. Shae Sortwell in a Facebook video posted Tuesday. (screen capture: Facebook)
Wisconsin state rep. Shae Sortwell in a Facebook video posted Tuesday. (screen capture: Facebook)

MADISON, Wisconsin — A Wisconsin state lawmaker compared a nonprofit children’s museum’s mask policy to the Nazi Party in a social media post that generated outrage and calls for an apology.

Republican state Rep. Shae Sortwell shared a Facebook post on Friday by the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum in Stevens Point detailing its mask policy. The museum said masks would be optional for those who show their vaccination cards and masks would be mandatory for everyone else over age 5.

“The Gestapo wants to see your papers, please,” Sortwell posted on Facebook, a reference to the feared secret police of Nazi Germany.

The story was first reported Tuesday by Wisconsin Public Radio.

In a video posted on Facebook Tuesday, Sortwell said he “absolutely stand[s] by my statement.”

Wisconsin state rep. Shae Sortwell. (Official)

“I think it’s ridiculous that some people, from the other side of the aisle in particular, are spending their time trying to claim that this is somehow antisemitic, as if history can never repeat itself, as if somehow being able to see repeats in history is antisemitic,” he said.

Sortwell was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 and has been an outspoken opponent of mask or coronavirus vaccine mandates. His legislative district does not include Stevens Point, where the children’s museum is located.

Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck, who is a board member of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, noted that just over a month ago the legislature voted unanimously to require education about the Holocaust in Wisconsin schools.

“At a time when antisemitic incidents continue to rise, hyperbolic rhetoric by Republican elected officials about the Holocaust needs to end now,” Subeck said. “These types of statements pile onto ever increasing antisemitic incidents in our state, and continue to create divisions in an already ultra-divided country.”

Sortwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Museum director Cory Rusch told Wisconsin Public Radio that the policy was an attempt to protect the health and safety of the many vulnerable grandparents who visit the museum with their grandkids, and he stressed that no one will be turned away from the museum based on their vaccination status.

Stevens Point resident Nerissa Nelson wrote a letter to Sortwell signed by 30 people, mostly from central Wisconsin, calling on him to apologize.

“Our children’s museum in this town is an important part of community life here,” Nelson told Wisconsin Public Radio. “And for a state representative to say something like that … is a horrible thing to do. He needs to rectify that, with a public apology.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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