WESTMORELAND — A New Hampshire representative wants to know how someone could share a link with an anti-Semitic cartoon from a white supremacist website and not know it’s anti-Semitic or that the website, Daily Stormer, is a home to Nazis.
“It went public on Dec. 7 [on Daily Stormer] and she reposted it on Dec. 9,” said Rep. Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland, about the cartoon posted to social media by Rep. Dawn Johnson, R-Laconia.
After Facebook blocked the post because of its source and content, Johnson then tweeted it out, and commented on Facebook, “When you try to share truth FB says NOPE we will not allow it.”
The cartoon in question, “is literally a copy of the kind of art that was used in Nazi Germany in the 1930s ...” Temple B’nai Israel Rabbi Dan Danson told the Concord Monitor.
The cartoon shows the word “Jews” above a cartoon image of a man wearing a Jewish skullcap. The man is depicted holding a sign announcing a rent increase. Next to the character is a drawing of another man with the head of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Photoshopped onto the body. The cartoon states “Riggers and Jews” and “Bad News.”
“The link took readers to a story promoting a discredited conspiracy theory along with an altered cartoon representing Jewish tropes that have been used to justify violence against the Jewish community throughout history,” states a letter from the National Association of Jewish Legislators. “When Facebook’s filters against such content removed Representative Johnson’s post, she doubled down, posting a photo of her first attempt, circumventing the filter.”
Democrats have called for Johnson to resign, while Republicans have condemned Johnson’s actions, but have not called for her resignation.
On Dec. 18, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, writing on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, asked House Acting Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, to request that Johnson resign.
“Representative Johnson’s actions were an obscene insult to the over 10,000 members of our Jewish community and are not representative of New Hampshire’s values,” wrote Cushing.
“The Governor and the acting speaker have more or less said what the representative did was disgusting, but neither have called for her resignation,” said Berch.
Johnson, a member of the Laconia School Board, was kicked off board committees but could not be removed because she was elected to her position on the board.
“Our commissioner of education, Frank Edelblut, has the power to remove her,” said Berch, as does the State Board of Education, “but we’ve seen no sign of that.”
On Dec. 17, the Laconia Daily Sun published an apology letter from Johnson.
“I regret sharing what I thought was a benign link about Georgia politics on social media,” she wrote. “After someone added a troubling meme to my post, I soon learned that the link I shared was connected to an extremist organization and I quickly deleted it and apologized. I had no idea. I do not live in that world, have never lived in that world, and honestly had no idea that these groups even existed. I do find it odd that the ones who called me out on it knew of them.”
Johnson wrote “I am an American and treat everyone equally and judge no one based on race, color, religion, or sex.”
Since she shared the link, wrote Johnson, she has been receiving harassing phone calls at work and at home.
“There are some scary people out there,” she wrote.
Johnson’s letter, noted Berch, did not include any apology to the Jewish community.
“Her apology was for the source of the material and not the content,” said Berch. When asked if someone can accidentally share an offensive meme from a white supremacist website, Berch said “I don’t buy that for one second. It’s sad and it’s fearful and this is the kind of behavior that leads to really bad things happening.”
About a week after Johnson shared the link, another act of anti-Semitism was perpetrated, this time at Dartmouth College in Hanover.
On Dec. 16, officials at Dartmouth College discovered someone had shot out with a pellet gun most of the lights on a menorah set up on campus.
“People can draw a link or not, if they wish,” said Berch, who is a member of the National Association of Jewish Legislators.
Berch believes this type of anti-Semitism “has always been with us. I have no illusion this is something brand new in America or the western world.”
“The norms in the past, to a greater degree or less, have kept that controlled,” he said. “It break out periodically, like the No Nothings and the McCarthy Era. We are certainly going through one of those periods now. The norms have broken down and people feel enabled by their leaders or the groups they belong to.”
Berch said that in times like these, you have to stand up to the intolerance and he hopes the GOP leadership does the right thing and demands Johnson’s resignation.
“A lot of people say the N.H. House is like a family,” he said. “If we have a problem within our family, we need to clean it up. I hope that happens.”