A Maine Republican compared the governor to Nazi Josef Mengele over vaccine requirement for health-care workers

Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, wears a face shield while speaking to a reporter before the first legislative session in the State House since the proceedings were moved to the more spacious Augusta Civic Center, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

At a sunny anti-vaccine protest in front of the State House in Augusta, Maine, a Republican lawmaker compared the Democratic governor's new immunization requirement for health-care workers to the medical experiments performed by Nazis during World War II.

"Do I need to remind you of the late 1930s and into the '40s in Germany and the experiments with Josef Mengele?" state Rep. Heidi Sampson said on Tuesday, referring to a Nazi figure who became known as the "Angel of Death" for the often fatal medical experiments he forced on people imprisoned at the Auschwitz death camp.

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In her speech, Sampson suggested the mandate for health-care workers was a gambit to test an "experimental" vaccine, despite the existing scientific studies that show the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and ongoing oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. The state lawmaker claimed that Gov. Janet Mills's vaccine mandate amounted to a violation of the Nuremberg Code. She also compared vaccine mandates to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that subjected Black men to medical research under false pretenses. Sampson also falsely said that those implementing vaccine mandates could be executed.

"Informed consent is at the top [of the code] and violating that is punishable by death," Sampson said, echoing a debunked claim that has circulated among anti-vaccine activists on social media.

Sampson's speech, along with the comments of several other Republicans who attended the rally, were swiftly condemned.

Democratic state Rep. Sam Zager told the Maine Beacon that he "fundamentally rejected" Sampson's claims.

"Vaccination is not an affront to individual liberty," Zager, a family physician, told the newspaper. "Recognizing people's inherent right to liberty does not invalidate other people's right to their wellness and physical security."

Many other vaccine skeptics have tried to falsely claim that pandemic policies are as restrictive and damaging as the German Nazi regime.

Two weeks ago, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party doubled down after saying that private employers requiring vaccines for workers returning to the office were just as bad as Nazis who labeled Jewish people with the Star of David during the Holocaust.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., made a similar claim in May, then apologized after a massive backlash. More recently, she changed tack and compared vaccine mandates to Jim Crow-era segregation.

In June, Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh wore a yellow Star of David, which Jewish people were forced to wear in Germany during Nazi rule, while railing against covid restrictions and declaring that, "In the current context, we're all Jews." Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren in July said flight attendants who enforced a federal mask mandate were "becoming almost Nazis of the air."

The Tuesday rally was not Sampson's first controversial political event.

In July, the Republican attended an event in Belfast, Maine, organized by a man that other politicians labeled "a known anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist," WABI-TV reported.

After that event, more than 50 of her colleagues in the state legislature penned a letter condemning Sampson for attending the rally and decrying a recent uptick in anti-Semitic attacks in Maine.

"Our state has a long history of extremist activity, including hosting the first Ku Klux Klan event in New England," the legislators wrote. "However, what sets recent events apart is the involvement of elected officials and their de facto sanctioning of extremist groups that pose a fundamental threat to our democracy."

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