Republican compares Whitmer mask order to Soviet-era East Germany

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit | Gov. Whitmer office photo

State Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) is the latest Republican to criticize Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to wear a mask in businesses or outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. Horn compared the order to East Germany, the former Soviet Union satellite state, and the Berlin Wall in a series of Facebook comments on Friday.

“My father was tortured by his government in Klein Lueben, East Germany,” Horn said in one comment. “Not liking what I’m seeing here.”

Horn said enforcement of the order relies on Michigan residents reporting one another to law enforcement, as was the case in the Soviet Union.

“I have every right to compare this to East Germany, where my grandfather was killed by the Russian takeover and my dad was tortured,” Horn said in another. “They fled to this country for the chance at freedom. I intend to protect that legacy.”

There were 69,722 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Michigan as of Monday, and 6,075 people have died from the virus. Michigan saw the largest daily increase in confirmed cases in seven weeks on July 6.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says face masks “are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.

Horn said the order – which includes a $500 fine for failure to comply – came with a “Soviet-style threat.”

Horn said Whitmer was inciting violence by calling on Michiganders to be “polite, yet forceful” in encouraging others to wear a mask.

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The comments were made on a post promoting Unlock Michigan, a GOP-connected group aiming to repeal the governor’s emergency powers through a petition drive.

Horn said the governor should “inspire rather than threaten.”

In a follow up post on July 11, Horn said, “I never thought I’d see a day where, for any reason, one lone, single elected official had the kind of authoritarian power to have ten million people either this angry, or walking on eggshells to stay on her good side.”

Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley has written a number of tweets slamming the mask mandate and even praised Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott “for exercising his authority and good judgement to not enforce this ill-advised unfunded state mandate.”

Last week, state Rep. Jim Lower (R-Greenville) tweeted, “All this nonsense about wear[ing] masks is intended to mask the fact that nothing the Government can do will stop the spread. In fact, that was never the goal. The goal was to flatten the curve.”

In another tweet, he wrote, “The costs of continuing to live under these insane authoritarian measures is way too high,”he wrote. “We really cannot live under the constant threat of more government imposed shut-downs and restrictions. It’s time we moved on with our lives.”

Lower’s medically inaccurate tweets drew criticism from the Chicago-based Committee to Protect Medicare.

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“Rep. Jim Lower chose to use his platform to spread false talking points that could endanger the lives of his constituents and others,” said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare. “The science and the evidence are clear: Wearing a mask can reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect health and save lives.”

The group called for state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) to censure Lower. 

Whitmer has previously called on Republican leaders to help turn down the heat on their rhetoric after she received death threats and armed protestors stormed the Michigan Capitol during her stay-home order.

“This could be avoided if Republican leadership in the Legislature would step up and denounce that kind of activity, if there was anyone on the other side of the aisle that would do that,” Whitmer said. “I ask that anyone with an office or a title or a platform uses it to help bring down the heat in our state.”

Whitmer’s office used the Emergency Alert System to notify residents of the strengthened mask order on Monday.

“Michiganders are REQUIRED by executive order to wear face coverings in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces,” the alert read, in part. “Businesses must refuse entry or service to those who do not wear a face covering (with limited exceptions).”

The Michigan Senate GOP blasted the alert on Twitter, saying, “The Emergency Broadcast System isn’t a giant personal Twitter account” for the governor.