Julie Buria, the Republican-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House 6B race this fall, said Monday night that she was “forced” to apologize over a social media post that used graphic Holocaust imagery and likened it to the state’s coronavirus pandemic response.
Mountain Iron Mayor Gary Skalko addressed the post at Monday’s city council meeting where Buria struck a more defiant tone from last week when she expressed “regret” for sharing it.
But at the meeting, Buria, who has been a city councilor here for about two years, flipped her statement and said she did nothing wrong.
“I was forced to,” but did not specify by whom, when asked why she initially apologized.
Buria’s post was shared last week to her personal Facebook page and read: “Any government with enough power to demand that you carry papers to move around freely is far more dangerous than COVID-19.” The top photo had Nazi officers checking a man’s paperwork, and the bottom was a graphic image of a mass grave during the Holocaust. The Mesabi Tribune did not republish the post because of a policy against running images of dead bodies.
“Never again let the government overreach to this degree, and here we are,” Buria said at the council meeting. “Did I compare it to that? Absolutely.”
Her words received the applause of more than 30 supporters in the audience.
The dramatic about-face comes after the Minnesota GOP last Saturday said its endorsed candidate in Buria regretted the post and was “sincere in her apology to not let it happen again.” As of Tuesday afternoon, the GOP had not returned email requests for comment on their candidate’s newest remarks or claims that she was forced to apologize.
Incumbent House 6B Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, said the post “was not who we want to be” and on Tuesday called for toned down rhetoric.
“This whole situation is unfortunate and reflects badly on our region. Words really do matter,” he said. “We need to be thoughtful in our remarks and our actions. The best thing is to move forward and focus on the critical issues.”
Yet that evening, Buria doubled down on the meaning of the post, saying it was a “parallel” to what’s happening in Minnesota during the coronavirus response. Gov. Tim Walz in March issued stay-at-home orders that were meant to limit the movements of residents and slow the spread of the virus, deeming some industries and employees essential.
She referenced her husband, a truck driver at Minntac in Mountain Iron, coming home with a slip of paper identifying him as essential and being told to carry it with him in case he was stopped. Walz said when issuing the orders in March that law enforcement was not being directed to do random checks of people moving about.
“This is what’s happening to our freedom and this is what happens,” she said, referring to the content of the post and apparently comparing essential worker papers to the acts of an authoritarian government that committed the genocide of millions of Jewish people.
One her supporters in the crowd, Jeff Forseen, warned that “history repeats itself” and that government “took freedom from the Jews and they’re taking freedom from us.”
Buria said multiple times in the meeting that “Jews are not offended,” that the post itself was not offensive and blamed Steve Girogi, a Mountain Iron resident and executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, for circulating a post from her personal account on Twitter.
Jewish Community Action Minnesota shared Buria’s post on Twitter and asked “where is the bottom?” in reference to two Holocuast-themed posts last week by Buria and the Wabasha County GOP.
“This is asinine and trumped up,” she said during the council meeting. “...And if I wasn’t running for the House, nobody would have went on my personal Facebook page and put this out publicly.”
Skalko and Giorgi said last week that she should resign from her city council seat, but Buria said Monday that she would vacate only at the end of her term or if elected to the state House in November.
Giorgi wrote in an email Tuesday that there is no “parallel comparison” and thanked Skalko for discussing the issue, noting the mayor had family members killed during the Holocaust.
“After viewing the performance of Councilor Julie Buria at the city council meeting last night and her explanation of how the use of a photo of dead innocent victims of genocide is a parallel to her husband being provided with a slip identifying him as an 'essential employee' during the stay at home order for Minnesotans simply confirms my original statement on her apology that she clearly stated was 'forced upon me,'” Giorgi wrote. He called her apology last week “hollow” and continued on Tuesday saying “having lived in this community all my life and known many members of the city council, no one has disappointed me as an elected official like Ms. Buria.”
City Councilor Joe Prebeg and the mayor both said Monday that being an elected official is a full-time position and their personal statements, as a practical matter, reflect on the city and the council. Skalko said he received a letter from a Jewish group in Duluth among “four or five” other communications following the post. Buria countered that she received several messages supporting her.
“You are an elected official 24/7. You can’t get away from that,” Prebeg said. “Your actions do represent the citizens of Mountain Iron, who elected you. We all make mistakes, I get it.”