Authorities in Alaska launched a review to determine how the Department of Motor Vehicles issued personalized license plates bearing Nazi terminology, a controversy that led to one elected official being removed from her position on a state human rights commission.
On Friday, former newspaper editor and reporter Matthew Tunseth spotted a "jaw-dropping" plate on a black Hummer in downtown Anchorage reading 3REICH, a reference to Adolf Hitler and his rule of Germany. Tunseth shared the photo on Twitter where it later attracted the attention of State Representative Sara Hannan.
Hannan said on Twitter she requested the license plate and would follow up "to clarify how it made it through the approval system."
Another resident, attorney Eva Gardner, told Anchorage Daily News in a story published Tuesday she'd seen a black Hummer SUV with tinted windows and a personalized Alaska license that read “FUHRER" in October.
Kelly Tshibaka, Department of Administration Commissioner, responded on Monday to concerns about personal plates by saying "the plates in question had previously been recalled." Tshibaka said law enforcement had been notified the plates are unauthorized, replacements had been issued and a review of how the plates were authorized has been ordered.
“The Alaska DMV has strict guidelines and protocols for issuing personalized license plates, which prohibit references to violence, drugs, law enforcement, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other government entities," she said. "The DMV has a recall process in place should a plate be issued that later is determined to be inappropriate or offensive, which was used in this circumstance.”
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Kelly Hanke, a spokesperson for the Department of Administration, told The Associated Press by email Tuesday that the “3REICH” plate was recalled in early January, and a notice was sent to the owner with a new standard plate. A list of rejected plates Hanke provided also included one that read “FUHRER.” She said she believed that one was recalled in December.
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Another official is facing consequences after commenting on the terms used on the license plates. Jamie Allard, an Anchorage Assembly member, was removed from her position on the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights after saying on Facebook that “fuhrer” and “reich” are just the German words for "leader" and "realm."
“If you speak the language fluently, you would know that the English definition of the word,” she wrote on her official Facebook page. “The progressives have put a spin on it and created their own definition.”
Allard's page is no longer available, but screenshots of her comments were shared by her colleague, Assembly Member Meg Zaletel, who condemned Allard's "indefensible" actions Sunday.
"Etymology doesn't change the racist and dangerous history in which the words Fuhrer and 3rd Reich came into popular English usage. Words matter!" Zaletel wrote. "These rationalizations are dangerous and continue to perpetuate white supremacy."
Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said in an email to USA TODAY Zaletel will bring forward a resolution to censure or otherwise reprimand Allard on Feb. 9 which he expects will pass.
"It should never be hard for an elected official to denounce Nazis," he said in a statement. "Ms. Allard had multiple opportunities to do the right thing and failed. She should be held accountable.”
Allard said in an email to USA TODAY her comments have been misinterpreted. She said she was not intending to defend a specific license plate and that she finds the plate in question "in poor taste."
"Some political bloggers and Assembly members are claiming that I am supporting white supremacy because of recent comments I made questioning what words are not allowed on license plates," she wrote. "As a person of color myself, I unequivocally condemn racism and white supremacy in all forms."
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg. Contributing: The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alaska DMV investigating how license plates with Nazi terms were issued