Kansas hearing on vaccine mandates provides stage for Holocaust comparisons

By: - November 12, 2021 4:20 pm

Daran Duffy, with his wife and daughter, wear Jewish stars to a hearing on COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Duffy told lawmakers he wears the star as a reminder that Hitler’s action were lawful. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Daran Duffy told Kansas lawmakers Friday he doesn’t think it is offensive to wear the Star of David on his chest.

Duffy, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, appeared with the star before the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates to complain about the implications of forcing employees to choose between an injection or losing their job.

The star, which his wife and daughter also wore to the committee hearing, is a symbol of the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

“It’s not meant to be offensive. It’s not meant to be controversial,” Duffy told lawmakers. “It’s meant rather to be a reminder (that) everything Hitler did, every single thing that Hitler did, he did in accordance with the laws of his country.”

Duffy noted that Jewish people were shuttled to death camps by the Nazis and subjected to inhumane experimentation.

“While this hasn’t reached that level of deprivation, we’re definitely moving in that direction,” Duffy said.

The image of the Duffy family attracted widespread attention and rebuke on social media.

“It’s disappointing that analogies to the Holocaust are being perpetuated,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe), who is not on the committee, in a Tweet. “Let me be clear: the issues being debated today are important to KS, but they are in no way comparable to what millions of Jews endured who were ripped from their families, & marked for death by the Nazis.”

Inside the meeting room, Duffy’s comments invited the wrath of Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas.

“You are not respecting Jewish people when you wear a star like that,” Pettey told him. “You are desecrating that memory. Millions of people were killed. We’re not talking about millions of people being killed.”

“I think we are,” Duffy responded.

Pettey started to make a point about the 760,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, but was cut off by the committee chairwoman, Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican. Erickson reminded lawmakers and those in attendance to be respectful.

Joann Atchity, a Shawnee resident, said the comparison between vaccine mandates and the Holocaust is appropriate because vaccines are “experimental.”

“The population of the world is undergoing the largest clinical trial in human history,” Atchity said. “So, yes, we have very much passed the line of human experimentation.”

Shawn Heald, who identified himself as a member of the Libertarian Party and wore the T-Shirt of a prominent anti-vaccine group, said employers are going too far in their inquiries of religious exemptions. Federal COVID-19 mandates provide exemptions based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Heald defended the appropriation of the Star of David by saying there are Jews in Israel who are wearing the star to protest a vaccine passport system.

“Those of us who draw these comparisons do so because we’re familiar with the relevant history and the significance of such a statement,” Heald said. “We refer to the precedent set in 1930s Germany, and you accuse us of comparing mandates to the gas chambers of the 1940s. They didn’t get there overnight. They got there incrementally.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.