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If you spend any amount of time on social media engaging about COVID-19, you will know discussions tend to get personal and ugly pretty fast.

Encourage vaccination of young people, and you’re labelled a pedophile.

Support masking in indoor settings? You’re a goose-stepping fascist.

Laud vaccination as a way out of the pandemic, and you are Joseph Goebbels and should brace yourself to be on trial for crimes against humanity at the fictional Nuremberg 2 tribunal.

Acknowledge that lockdowns are sometimes necessary to control the spread of a pandemic virus, and brace yourself for the onslaught of Hitler images.

These types of responses are predictable to a certain degree.

Godwin’s law (coined by U.S. lawyer Mike Godwin in 1990) holds that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes more likely.

These days, debates go from zero to Hitler in about a nanosecond.

Some may want to dismiss this kind of over-the-top rhetoric as laughable, the work of a tiny minority of extremists and their bots.

But it’s obscene, and obscenely commonplace.

One simple principle: No vaccine, no go

To protect our kids from COVID-19, we have to be grown-ups

The Nazi-fication of public discourse is no longer the sole purview of pathetic man-boys holed up in their basements.

Enabled by social-media giants hiding behind freedom-of-speech arguments, trolls can now spread their misogynist, racist and anti-social views readily and mercilessly.

The goal here is to muddy the waters between fact and fiction, between truth and lies, and to undermine democratic institutions.

The grunts of a few can be turned into shouts that unfortunately have a growing audience, especially among the disgruntled and disenfranchised.

Playing the victim card appeals to them.

The ragtag collection of conspiracy theorists who gather at anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown rallies is fascinating – a stinking potpourri of grievances, with denunciations of everything from vaccines to “fake news,” to 5G, to the so-called “deep state.”

These rallies – which are getting bigger as pandemic frustrations grow – have more than their fair share of Hitler talk and imagery. They also include people wearing the yellow Star of David, implying that being told to wear a mask or get a jab is a level of persecution comparable to Jews who were rounded up and shipped in cattle cars to death camps.

Clearly some people have lost the plot.

Yet, they are being encouraged by politicians who embrace rhetoric suggesting that a position is invalid because the same view was held by Hitler.

A case in point is odious Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, who claims that lockdowns, mask rules and vaccine mandates are forms of Nazi-like tyranny.

His perverse version of freedom holds that individual rights are absolute, and that, for example, unvaccinated people have a God-given right to do as they please up to and including infecting others with the coronavirus.

Mr. Hillier and his acolytes have made a habit of casually tossing around Nazi analogies and Hitler images.

This mainstreaming of hateful images and thinly veiled hate speech should alarm us on a number of levels.

First of all, it betrays a profound ignorance of the Holocaust.

There can be no comparisons made between the state-sponsored mass murder of six million Jews and the temporary shutdown of the local mall.

Those who have the unmitigated gall to wear yellow stars to anti-mask rallies offend the memory of the victims of the Shoah and their descendants.

It is worth noting that Mr. Godwin, when he fashioned his adage, actually wanted people to think harder about the Holocaust and why Nazi comparisons should not be casually tossed into conversation.

Thinking is certainly not what’s happening here.

What we’re seeing is a lot of projection, the psychological impulse to project on other people what you’re actually feeling.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump, sometimes called the “Projection President,” was the embodiment of this phenomenon.

Mr. Trump, a chronic liar who wallowed in corruption, routinely attacked his opponents as corrupt liars. He also frequently described his opponents in a derogatory fashion, a lynchpin strategy of hate-mongers, and now a mainstay of social media.

Next time you hear the claims of Nazi-like tyranny and oppression, think about what is really being said.

Those who don’t want masks under any circumstances – those who not only want to refuse vaccines but prevent others from getting them – are actually the tyrants.

Their use of Hitler images and analogies are not a caution, but an embrace, one we should call out, not dismiss casually.

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