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Nazi Symbolism Takes Over Illinois COVID-19 Rally

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker responded on Saturday to critics who displayed signs with swastikas or other Nazi references at Friday’s protests against his stay-at-home order in downtown Chicago and Springfield.

“The people who were protesting — there were quite a number of people who seem to have been carrying signs filled with hate,” said Pritzker, who is Jewish. “There were people carrying signs with swastikas on them.”

After citing his experiences helping build the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie and working with survivors of the Nazi-perpetrated genocide, the first-term Democratic governor said, “The meaning of that swastika is apparently unknown to the people who are carrying it, or if it is known, it is a demonstration of the hate that is among us.”

But Pritzker added that the protests at the state’s Thompson Center in Chicago and the Illinois State Capitol drew only “a few hundred demonstrators.”

The protesters at the “Re-open Illinois” events targeted the governor’s decisions to shut down all businesses except those deemed essential and limit gatherings to no more than 10 people since March. The original order was extended through May, although some of the restrictions have been relaxed this month.

Although polls show deep support for the stay-at-home orders, it was some of the messages at the protests that drew broad, even international condemnation. At one point, the hashtag #IllinoisNazis was trending nationally on Twitter.

And the official Twitter account of the museum at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland criticized one protester who held up a sign with the phrase “Arbeit macht frei, JB,” according to a photo posted by a counter-demonstrator. That message, which is German for “work sets you free,” is the same slogan the Nazis wrote above the entrance to the death camp.


“It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate,” wrote the @AuschwitzMemorial on Twitter. “It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration.”

Pritzker’s comments on the protests came as his administration announced that 105 people had died of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. The total number of people who have died with confirmed cases of COVID-19 is 2,559. “We’re doing the right thing protecting each other during this extraordinary crisis,” the governor said. “I am so grateful to live in a state with those millions of people.”

At the protest in Chicago on Friday, one person displayed a sign that read, “HEY, PRITZKER!!! HITLER CALLED. HE WANTS HIS POLICE STATE BACK!!!”

The governor’s top aides had stronger words for the protesters who displayed the Nazi symbol. “These words are above the gates of Auschwitz and are directed at our Jewish governor,” Abudayyeh wrote. “You can disagree with policies, but this blatant display of bigotry and hatred should have no home in any movement.”

Caprara said the woman who held the sign could visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum, where she would learn the phrase on the sign “adorned Nazi death camps.”