Walker called off the Saturday campaign event after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that would-be host Bettina Sofia Viviano-Langlais, a movie producer and Republican fundraiser, had the swastika image set as her Twitter profile picture.
According to Journal-Constitution reporter Patricia Murphy, representatives for the Herschel Walker campaign initially defended the use of the image as “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic.”
But within hours, the campaign reversed course. “Herschel is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community and opposes hatred and bigotry of all forms,” campaign spokesperson Mallory Blount said in a statement. “Despite the fact that the apparent intent behind the graphic was to condemn government vaccine mandates, the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign.”
Georgia Democrats were quick to take aim at Walker over the incident. “Herschel Walker defended a swastika,” state party spokesman Dan Gotttlieb said in a statement, “and canceling a fundraiser does not change the fact that he failed to condemn a hateful, anti-Semitic symbol.”
The image, which apparently likens COVID-19 vaccination mandates to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, has appeared at anti-vaccine events across the United States. Other Holocaust imagery has been evoked to the same effect — a Tennessee shop was criticized in May for selling “Not Vaccinated” patches in the shape of a yellow Star of David.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) came under fire in June, when she also likened vaccine and mask mandates to the systemic genocide of European Jews by the Nazi regime.
“You know, we can look back at a time in history when people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” she told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.” Greene later apologized for her comments.
Jewish groups have condemned the comparison as “exploitative” and “shameless.”
Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the southern division of the Anti-Defamation League, said of the Herschel Walker incident in a statement Wednesday: “Those linking the atrocities committed by the Nazis to modern day public health policies must retract their shameless comparisons, take responsibility, and cease their exploitation of Jewish suffering as a political tactic. We’re glad to see the fundraiser was canceled, and the behaviors of the host were denounced as offensive.”
He is competing for the Republican nomination for that race against state agriculture commissioner Gary Black among others, but is widely seen as the strongest candidate in the GOP primary field, thanks in large part to the coveted Trump endorsement.
Preliminary head-to-head polling suggests Walker could be a threat to the incumbent Warnock. A March Trafalgar Group poll had Walker up by two points in a hypothetical match up, but an August survey by PPP put Warnock on top by the same margin.
Walker did not appear to slow down in the light of Wednesday’s swastika controversy. He ended the night with an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.