Updated below: Maine Democratic Party chair questions LePage's fitness for office; Vermont Dem chair says Brock should condemn remarks. Update #2: Comment from Anti-Defamation League and union representing IRS workers.
Following a fundraiser for Vermont Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock Thursday morning, Maine Gov. Paul LePage repeated and elaborated on controversial comments he made over the weekend equating the Internal Revenue Service with the Gestapo.
Standing by Brock's side at the Sheraton in South Burlington, the Maine governor said, "What I am trying to say is the Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated. Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad — yet."
LePage then said, "They're headed in that direction."
Asked if he had a sense of what the Gestapo did during the second world war, LePage said, "Yeah, they killed a lot of people." Asked whether the IRS "was headed in the direction of killing a lot of people," LePage answered: "Yeah."
LePage's words went well beyond a controversial comment he made in his weekly radio address over the weekend. Speaking about the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision largely upholding the Affordable Care Act, LePage told his radio audience that, "This decision has made America less free. We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS."
(Part 2 of the full audio — including Brock's response — after the jump)
Following a national uproar, LePage partially retracted the comment, saying in a statement that it was not his intent to insult anyone and that "Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word Gestapo has clouded my message."
LePage was in Vermont for a pair of fundraisers — Wednesday night at Brock's St. Albans farm, and Thursday morning at the Sheraton. Tickets for the Wednesday fundraiser ran from $200 to $2000. Brock, a state senator and former state auditor, is challenging first-term Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Asked Thursday if his comments were insensitive to people — particularly Jewish Americans — LePage said, "Well, let's put it this way. I apologize to Jewish Americans if they feel offended. But I also apologize to Japanese Americans that were put in prison during World War II, and I also apologize to those people that were accused of being communists during McCarthyism, because that's not the American way."
Asked whether the IRS is heading in the direction of interning people as well, LePage said: "I don't know. I don't know. I just know that I'm a product of the American dream. I came from nothing and have been modestly successful. I have not had to worry about the IRS telling me I have to do things. I'd like to have my independence."
Brock, who stood side-by-side with LePage during the nine minute interview, at first declined to disavow the Maine governor's comments, saying,"Each of us has friends who make comments that they stand by. Those are their comments. They're not necessarily my comments."
Asked again whether he disagreed with LePage's contention that the IRS is on its way to killing people, Brock said he interpreted it differently.
"What I interpreted the governor as saying is that the policies that we're following may lead to unintended harm, and that's my interpretation," he said.
Later in the exchange, after accusing Seven Days of asking "not necessarily balanced questions," Brock said, "I think if your question was this: 'Do you think that the IRS is a criminal organization that is going to line people up and shoot them and hang them, what would the governor say?'"
"No," LePage chimed in.
"No," Brock echoed. "And I think that's the message."
After LePage walked away from the interview, Brock further clarified his position on the Maine governor's words.
"If you asked me directly, 'Do I believe the IRS are the Gestapo?' I'd say, 'No.' Simple as that," Brock said.
Photo courtesy of Charlie Gorra, WPTZ-TV.
**UPDATED 3 p.m.**
Responding to LePage’s comments Thursday afternoon, Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant questioned whether the governor remains “fit to hold office.”
“It took me about 15 minutes to get my jaw up off the floor. I was speechless,” Grant said after listening to LePage’s remarks. “We’re used to Gov. LePage spouting off with insensitive, offensive remarks. But what he said today, he’s basically put all his chips in the middle of the table on the side of totally unhinged conspiracy theories. I think we really have to question at this point whether he’s fit to hold office. It’s that serious.”
Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson called LePage’s comments “completely outrageous” and argued that, “the fact that Randy Brock is not condemning those comments is quite disturbing.”
“He’s either diminishing the atrocity of the Holocaust or he’s making absolutely outsized and outrageous claims about the administrative functions of the Internal Revenue Service,” Perkinson said of LePage.
“I don’t think it’s enough for Randy just to say he doesn’t necessarily agree with LePage’s comments. I think it’s incumbent upon him to distance himself and condemn those comments,” he added. “If [Brock] doesn’t have the moral fortitude to stand up to this sort of tripe than it really says a lot about his ability to serve.”
Grant also took on Brock for associating with the Maine governor.
“I think one of the true measures of a person is who they choose as their friends. The fact that Mr. Brock is friends with someone like Paul LePage, who is so detached from reality, ought to give everybody in Vermont pause during this election season. The fact that he could stand there and not completely repudiate what Gov. LePage said pretty much says it all.”
**UPDATE #2 — 5:30 p.m.**
Derrek Shulman, New England director of the Anti-Defamation League, demanded that LePage fully apologize for his comments in the governor’s upcoming weekly radio address.
"We have not heard an apology to date,” Shulman said. “The important thing is that analogies to the Holocaust and the Nazis are inappropriate — certainly when describing the IRS. They demean millions of Hitler’s victims and they offend all those who value civil discourse and respectful dialogue.”
Shulman also took Brock to task for failing to immediately denounce LePage’s comments.
“I think the most responsible thing to do when someone hears irresponsible and inappropriate analogies to the Holocaust is to step forward and speak out against them — and it doesn’t sound like [Brock] did that,” Shulman said. “He could have done more by expressing his own deep concerns and objections to comparisons to the Holocaust.”
Colleen Kelley — president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers, including employees of the IRS — said she was “appalled” by LePage’s comments and rendered “speechless.” Kelley, who wrote to LePage Tuesday demanding an apology for his earlier comments, said she was shocked that he repeated them.
"For him to do it again— I just cannot even accept that somebody in his position would make those kinds of comments,” she said. “I just think it’s outrageous.”
Kelley said she worried that rhetoric aimed at federal workers could lead to serious harm.
“I do think that it carries with it a very real danger of inciting some people who might be prone to violent behavior or anti-government actions, that it gives them energy or ideas about engaging in violence against government employees,” she said. “I worry about that. I know federal employees worry about it.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Shumlin's re-election campaign declined to comment.
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