USA

Kansas paper owner apologizes for tying mask rule, Holocaust

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas county Republican Party chairman who owns a weekly newspaper apologized Sunday for a cartoon posted on the paper’s Facebook page that equated the Democratic governor’s coronavirus-inspired order for people to wear masks in public with the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Dane Hicks, owner and publisher of The Anderson County Review, said in a statement on Facebook that he was removing the cartoon after “some heartfelt and educational conversations with Jewish leaders in the U.S. and abroad. The newspaper posted the cartoon Friday, and it drew dozens of critical responses and international attention. A blog post by Hicks on Saturday defending it also drew critical responses.

Hicks is the GOP chairman for Anderson County in eastern Kansas. The state party chairman deemed the cartoon “inappropriate.” Gov. Laura Kelly, who is Catholic, called for it to be removed and she and other critics called it anti-Semitic.

The cartoon depicted Kelly wearing a mask with a Jewish Star of David on it, next to what Hicks said was a hotoshopped image of people being loaded onto train cars. Its caption is, “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask … and step onto the cattle car.”

Hicks’ newspaper is based in the Anderson County seat of Garnett, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City and has a circulation of about 2,100, according to the Kansas Press Association.

Hicks initially defended the posting as an example of how political cartoons are “gross over-caricatures designed to provoke debate” and “fodder for the marketplace of ideas.” He said the issue was the “governmental overreach” of Kelly’s administration and that he planned to publish the cartoon in the paper’s next edition on Tuesday.

But Hicks said in his statement Sunday: “I can acknowledge the imagery in my recent recent editorial cartoon describing state government overreach in Kansas with images of the Holocaust was deeply hurtful to members of a culture who’ve been dealt plenty of hurt throughout history — people to whom I never desired to be hurtful in the illustration of my point.”

The governor issued the order because of resurgence in reported coronavirus cases that increased the state’s total to nearly 16,000 as of Friday, when Kansas finished its worst two-week spike since the pandemic began. The state has reported 277 COVID-19-related deaths.

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