Politics

This Arizona Lawmaker Displayed the Nazi Flag on Twitter, But Hates Anti-Semites

State Senator Kelly Townsend speaks with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.
State Senator Kelly Townsend speaks with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. Gage Skidmore
Over the past six months, Arizona State Senator Kelly Townsend epitomized the paradox of the modern Republican Party’s stance on Jewish issues — that somehow, it is vogue to #StandWithIsrael, but also trendy to liken pandemic restrictions to the Holocaust.

It's a battle she's losing if a tweet deleted on Thursday morning shows any penance for her actions as the Lenten season begins.

Call it religious empathy-lite.

Casual internet browsers noted that Townsend must have Googled the phrase "Haredi Jews" before posting a promotional photo of the 2013 Israeli Netflix family drama Shtisel alongside the following tweet:

“The silver lining in the most recent unpleasantry at the AZ Senate is that it is flushing out the true anti-Semites.”
The tweet was swiftly deleted and the same tagline was reposted instead with an image of the Israeli flag.

We wanted to ask Townsend if she felt this and other tweets, like the one with the Nazi flag likening vaccines mandates to the Holocaust, made her seem out of touch.

She did not immediately respond to such questions from Phoenix New Times. In her latest tweet, Townsend alluded to the censuring of fellow State Senator Wendy Rogers on Wednesday after Rogers called for lynchings and embarked on a series of anti-Semitic social media tirades.

Rogers, the Flagstaff Republican, spewed conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros and the banking magnate Rothschild family, who are frequent targets of anti-Semitism, just as the New York Police Department investigated a week-long spree of hate crimes against Jewish people.

Townsend, a Republican representing East Mesa and Apache Junction, must not fancy herself among the “true anti-Semites,” despite tweeting an image of a Nazi flag in September 2021 when she obliquely compared coronavirus vaccine mandates to the slaughtering of 6 million Jewish people during World War II.

Townsend's hypocrisy is sure to spark a spirited conversation around the dining table as more than 100,000 Jewish residents in metro Phoenix break challah bread at Shabbat dinner Saturday night.

“Actions speak louder than performative words,” said Debra Stein, who sits on the Jewish Democratic Council of America and heads up the Arizona chapter based in Scottsdale.

“Republicans simply don’t hold their own members accountable for blatant anti-Semitic remarks and affiliations,” she said. U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, a staunch Arizona Republican, voted last week not to send American aid to Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky. This, as Russian forces continue to rain missiles down on the country's Jewish population of 400,000 amid an unprovoked war.

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio drew applause days later from his fellow Republicans when he called himself the "biggest racist in the country" during known anti-Semite Nick Fuentes’ annual alt-right conference, which also featured Rogers.

Meanwhile, renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt’s confirmation to become President Joe Biden’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism has been stalled. Republicans object to her nomination because she once posted an unsavory tweet about Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson in which she argued that he was a white supremacist.

A study released this week by the Anti-Defamation League, a New York City-based nonprofit that tracks hate crimes, found that white supremacist propaganda reached a fever pitch in 2021, especially for anti-Semitic messages. The Anti-Defamation League earlier condemned Townsend's use of the Nazi flag on Twitter and requested its removal. The tweet has also since been deleted.

The national extremist anti-Semitic group Folksfront posted hateful propaganda, including images of swastikas and Adolf Hitler, at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society in Phoenix last month.

“The Holocaust and anti-Semitic remarks are being used as punchlines,” Stein said. “It terrifies me.”

For Townsend, the longtime state lawmaker, inflammatory words and actions are par for the course. Townsend has publicly sympathized with rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 last year. She even promised supporters to defund the Arizona Attorney General's Election Integrity Unit, which she helped create.

Sometimes her criticisms are misogynistic.

In 2018, Townsend suggested that women who dress provocatively have “no defense” if raped.

And don’t forget about when she benightedly jumped on the #FursuitFriday trend after stumbling across furry Twitter, which refers to people who enjoy having sex while donning animal costumes.

Townsend's gaffe stemmed from not knowing that the costumes were linked to the fetish.

“Education is what separates the blatant anti-Semitism from the ignorance,” Stein said.

And from the Jewish advocate's perspective, the Arizona Legislature is overrun with the latter.

It all boils down to the bizarre double standard within the Republican Party that venerates Nazi symbolism on the plight to liberate an American ally in Israel, a state that was born out of rising anti-Semitic persecution, Stein said.

“The Republicans are trying to paint the Democrats as anti-Israel,” Stein said. “It’s like a Jedi mind trick.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss