Anchorage mayor backs use of yellow stars by mask opponents

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The mayor of Alaska’s largest city has criticized a proposed mask mandate under consideration by the Anchorage Assembly and defended the use of yellow Stars of David wore by people who oppose the proposal.

Four people were arrested during Wednesday’s assembly meeting about the mask mandate, two for disorderly conduct and two for trespassing. One also faces a weapons misconduct charge for allegedly carrying a concealed gun, Anchorage Police Sgt. Ken Bushue told the Anchorage Daily News.

The mask mandate hearing started Tuesday and was expected to continue Thursday.

The proposal would require people to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors at large events. If approved as written, businesses and building owners would be required to deny entry to people not wearing masks, though there are exceptions for people including small children.

Mayor Dave Bronson could veto the proposal, but the Anchorage Assembly could override a veto.

The proposal comes as Alaska experiences a spike in coronavirus cases. State officials said there’s been a 42% percent increase in newly confirmed cases over last week, and the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center, has declared crisis standards of care that allow doctors to prioritize standards of care.

Anchorage instituted mask mandates under two different mayoral administrations. But Bronson was elected in May after pledging not to enact mask mandates.

During Tuesday’s meeting, he said the proposed mask mandate is “reckless and ill conceived.”

“I oppose this ordinance because it is based on inconclusive science, because it is bad policy, and because it is an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom guaranteed to every Anchorage citizen by our federal and state constitutions,” Bronson said. “But most of all, I oppose this ordinance because it pits neighbor against neighbor, shop owner against customer and friend against friend.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, he defended the use of the yellow stars, with the words “Do not comply” and worn by some people at the meetings opposing the mask mandate proposal.

Christine Hill, who twice ran unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly, printed out the stars at home and was handing them out for others to wear during the meeting to draw a comparison to the oppression and genocide of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

“We’re going down that same road, what’s happening now, taking more and more of our freedom away. And that’s what’s happening. That’s what’s frightening,” Hill said.

The yellow Stars of David and other Holocaust imagery are being used by people opposed to mask and vaccine mandates across the country, drawing condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish and lost to Bronson in the mayoral race, decried the use of the Star of David, reading a letter he received from his rabbi, Abram Goodstein.

“It was heart-wrenching for me when I noticed individuals were wearing yellow Stars of David, mimicking my Jewish ancestors who perished during the Holocaust,” Dunbar read, quoting Goodstein.

The letter added: “For myself and most Jews, seeing the yellow Star of David on someone’s chest elicits the same feeling as seeing a swastika on a flag or the SS insignia on a uniform. It is a symbol of hate that reminds us Jews of the terror and horror we suffered. I believe it is a constitutional right to protest for your values. But I request that you do not use symbols that diminish the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.”

Bronson also spoke about the stars, saying “there was a formal message that came out within Jewish culture about that and the message was, ‘never again.’ That’s an ethos. And that’s what that star really means is, ‘We will not forget, this will never happen again.’ And I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them,” Bronson said.

Many in the crowd testified against the mask mandate. Others called into the meeting expressing support for the proposal, citing rising case numbers and overburdened hospitals, including Dr. Tom Hennessy, who specializes in public health and preventative medicine at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

”There’s clear and convincing evidence that the use of facial masks and mask mandates in public settings reduces transmission and deaths from COVID-19. We know this from laboratory studies and real world evaluation of mask policies,” Hennessy said.