State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said Wednesday he is “terribly sorry” for wearing a yellow Star of David on his shirt at an event over the weekend in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The backtracking, during an appearance on a conservative radio talk show, came after Walsh’s use of the symbol drew widespread condemnations, including from Democratic and Republican colleagues in the state Legislature as well as by Jewish organizations.
Walsh had the star — an infamous symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust — affixed to his shirt during a speech to a conservative group at a church in Lacey, Thurston County, on Saturday. He said it was meant to make a point about vaccine mandates that he opposes.
“It’s an echo from history,” Walsh wrote on a Facebook page about the symbol. “In the current context, we’re all Jews.”
His comparison of a public health vaccination campaign with the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II attracted national attention and criticism.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Northwest chapter called Walsh’s comparisons “a gross misappropriation of history to advance an ignorant political point of ‘freedom.’ It is deeply offensive and discounts the painful history of marginalized communities.”
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said in a statement that Walsh’s conduct “dishonors the victims of the Holocaust, the survivors and their families, as well as the brave American military & our allies who fought, and died, to defeat the Nazis.”
Some of Walsh’s legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle also publicly condemned his conduct.
“Encouraging vaccination against a virus that killed 600,000 Americans is the *opposite* of Nazi persecution of Jews. Equating them trivializes the Shoah, devalues the lives and memories of 6 million people systematically slaughtered, and brings unnecessary pain to their families,” wrote state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, on Twitter.
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, sent Walsh an email copied to House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, saying his use of Holocaust-related imagery was “a profound distortion of one of the most horrific acts in global history” and urging him to apologize and educate himself about the experience of Jews during the Holocaust.
Carlyle, who founded an informal Jewish caucus in the Legislature, invited Walsh to engage with Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity and other resources.
After initially defending his actions early Wednesday, posting on Facebook that criticisms of him were “Orwellian,” Walsh went on the radio show later in the afternoon to apologize.
A guest Wednesday on the Jason Rantz show on KTTH AM 770, Walsh said, “This gesture went too far,” adding, “It was inappropriate and offensive. I’m terribly sorry that it happened and that I was a part of it.”
Walsh told Rantz he’d been trying to make a statement about government overreach, but admitted “it was just a dumb idea and it was not effective,” according to KTTH.
Washington has not made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, but the state is requiring employers to keep track of which workers are vaccinated in order to lift workplace masking mandates.
Walsh followed up his Wednesday radio appearance with a formal statement on Thursday morning.
“I apologize for using a profound image in a way that was inappropriate and offensive to so many people. It was wrong. It won’t happen ever again,” he said.