A Republican legislator in Maine who lost his wife to COVID-19 last week appeared at a rally on Tuesday that featured a GOP colleague who compared the state’s Democratic governor to a Nazi doctor who performed deadly experiments on Jews during the Holocaust.
State Rep. Chris Johansen, who emerged in the early days of the pandemic as a fierce opponent of public health-related restrictions, joined a group of lawmakers at the event in Augusta. State Rep. Heidi Sampson delivered a speech to the crowd that baselessly accused Gov. Janet Mills, who has introduced a vaccine mandate for health-care workers, of operating a government campaign to test “experimental” vaccines on unknowing citizens.
She described Mills as the “reincarnated” Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who performed deadly experiments on Jewish people in Auschwitz death camps during the Holocaust.
“Do I need to remind you of the late 1930s and into the 40s in Germany. And the experiments with Josef Mengele,” Sampson said according to a video from the event posted online. “What was it? A shot. And these were crimes against humanity. And what came out of that? The Nuremberg Code. The Nuremberg Trial. Informed consent is at the top and violating that is punishable by death.”
She also compared vaccine mandates to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment on Black men. Sampson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The rally came in response to a recent announcement that health-care workers would be required to get shots as part of a push to shore up vaccinations among state and federal employees and health-care workers with public-facing roles.
State Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, who recorded the rally on Facebook Live, told The Daily Beast on Friday that the event had been misunderstood and wasn’t so much anti-vaccines as it was a “pro-freedom” rally.
“The vaccine was just a culmination of everything,” Rudnicki argued. “It was a ‘right to choose’ rally.”
When asked about a trend of comparisons being made between vaccine cards and Jews being forced to carry the Star of David during the Holocaust, she said, “I think what a lot of people are saying is, asking for people’s papers, and that’s what it comes down to.”
According to the Bangor Daily News, neither Chris Johansen nor his wife Cindy, who served as corresponding secretary for the Aroostook County Republicans, had been vaccinated against COVID when she first began describing her symptoms on Facebook last month.
While there is little evidence of her death on the Facebook page of Aroostook County Republicans, the Aroostook County Democrats posted a condolence message on Facebook on Aug. 15. Her death was later confirmed to The Daily Beast by a spokesperson for the Maine Republican Party.
Cindy Johansen shared in a Facebook post on July 16 that her legs felt like rubber and she felt she was “going to pass out.”
“It’s absolutely horrible to be alone,” Johansen wrote in a July 21 post.
Chris Johansen shared updates about his wife on his Facebook page earlier this month, reporting that doctors needed to be sure that his wife was “ready to breath [sic] on her own when they remove the vent.”
Not longer after Johansen’s wife had shared information about her initial symptoms, a Maine journalist posted to Twitter what he said was a recording of a brief interview with Chris Johansen who can be heard saying, “Listen up, I’ve got COVID and I’m really, really sick and I just don’t have time to talk to you today.”
Johansen, however, has since adamantly denied contracting the virus and dismissed the validity of reports that suggested otherwise. He refused to confirm if he’d tested positive or not to local publications, reportedly hanging up when contacted by the Bangor Daily News late last month.
When reached by The Daily Beast on Thursday and asked about his diagnosis he said, “All of these reports are false.”
He declined to elaborate further, saying, “We’re done, thank you.”
Meanwhile, Johansen’s activism against coronavirus restrictions and vaccines are well-documented.
In April and May last year, he was involved in organizing rallies where protestors at times wielded pro-Trump flags and hats while challenging Mills’ coronavirus-related restrictions.
In May, Johansen was among seven lawmakers who flouted a mask requirement at the Maine State House. He was later stripped of his committee assignment.
The move only appeared to further fuel his efforts in railing against State House rules. He later said he would explore legal action against the state House Speaker to prevent a mask mandate in the legislature.
He has also posted memes on Facebook that appear to undermine the vaccines. In one meme posted to his page last month featuring two rats, one appears to turn down a vaccine because “they’re still testing it on the humans.”
The death of Johansen’s wife comes after a growing number of county-level officials and their spouses have fallen sick, and at times later died, from the virus while continuing to rail against mask mandates.
Pressley Stutts, a GOP party leader in South Carolina’s Greenville County, died on Thursday after a nearly monthlong fight against COVID. His wife had also been hospitalized.
On Aug. 12, Stutts had issued an update on Facebook, saying that his infection had created “insidious double pneumonia.” A day later, he said that he had opted to go on a ventilator.
Even as Stutts reported that his oxygen levels had dropped, he said he believed that former President Donald Trump had “exposed” what he called depravity and corruption, while urging his constituents to make up their own minds about COVID-19 safety measures.
“If you feel you need to wear a mask, by all means, do. If not, don’t,” Stutts wrote on Aug. 1. “If after all of your prayerful and informed research, you need to get a shot, by all means, feel free to do so, but NEVER demand that others be required to do so.”