WASHINGTON -- National Rifle Association President David Keene on Friday defended the decision by gun rights activists in Albany, N.Y., to wave signs depicting Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as Hitler. The signs were prevalent at a protest Thursday against New York state's new gun regulations, where Keene spoke to a crowd of approximately 5,000 gun rights supporters.
Asked about the Nazi imagery during an appearance on the AM 1300 radio show "Live from the State Capitol," Keene told host Fred Dicker that the signs were in reference to the fact that dictators have historically limited citizens' gun rights.
"Folks that are cognizant of the history, not just in Germany but elsewhere, look back to the history and say we can’t let that sort of thing happen here,” Keene said.
Gun regulations recently passed in New York State include an expanded ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, and a ban on gun magazines that carry more than seven rounds. Signs at the protest depicted Cuomo with a Hitler-style mustache, dressed in a Nazi party uniform, and raising his right hand in the Nazi party salute. One such sign read, "All in favor of 'gun control' please raise your right hand..."
The posters and signs drew a quick response from State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, a Democrat, who called them “offensive and disgraceful."
“The usage of the swastika, the depiction of Gov. Cuomo in Nazi regalia, or comparing the attempted systemic extermination of a people and culture to the enactment of common-sense measures to combat the scourge of gun violence is unacceptable," Stavisky wrote in a letter to the protest organizers, the New York State Rife and Pistol Association. The use of the posters, she said, was "insulting to the thousands of Holocaust survivors and does nothing to further our debate on any issue.”
Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, told the Huffington Post, "We were outraged by the depictions of Gov. Cuomo as Hitler." Foxman called the signs "inappropriate [and] deeply offensive to all Americans." Such comparisons, he said, "serve to trivialize the history and memory of the Holocaust."
Foxman said he wished the protesters had shown more sensitivity, and "we do not buy the argument that they were aware of the history. Clearly they need an education about who Hitler was and the genocidal crimes he was responsible for."
This is hardly the first time a public official has been likened to Hitler. In 2010, the North Iowa Tea Party created a billboard that featured Hitler, Obama, and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin.
In response, Tea Party Patriots leader Shelby Blakely criticized the decision to portray the president akin to a dictator responsible for the deaths of more than 6 million people throughout Europe, most of them Jews.
"It's not going to help our cause," Blakely said. "It's going to make people think that the tea party is full of a bunch of right-wing fringe people, and that's not true ... When you compare Obama to Hitler, that to me does a disservice to the Jews who both survived and died in the Holocaust and to the Germans who lived under Nazi regime rule," he said.
The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.