Several local lawmakers have joined the call for N.H. Rep. Dawn Johnson, R-Laconia, to resign her seat after she shared an anti-Semitic post on social media.
The Tweet shared a link from the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to a story about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The story included a crude cartoon of a Jewish man along with an image of another man, upon which Kemp’s head had been Photoshopped. The word “rigger” appears above Kemp’s face in an apparent reference to his decision not to challenge the state’s presidential election results.
In a news release Monday, N.H. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, took aim at Johnson’s post, urging House leadership and Gov. Chris Sununu to condemn it and support calls for her to step down.
He pointed to House Bill 1135, a law that requires Holocaust and genocide studies to be included in the criteria defining an adequate education in New Hampshire. The legislation easily passed both the House and Senate, and Sununu signed it into law in July.
“In a unanimous vote by the Senate, near unanimous vote in the House, and signature by the Governor alongside Holocaust survivor Kati Preston, we declared Holocaust and genocide education to be a key component to understanding the fragility of democracy, the importance of democratic principles, and the power of individual choices in preventing discrimination and genocide,” Kahn said in the release. “Representative Johnson’s actions are in direct contrast to those values.”
The cartoon included in the story on The Daily Stormer uses timeworn anti-Semitic tropes, including a caricature reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. The cartoon’s caption reads “Riggers, Jews...Bad News!”
Johnson, a newly elected state representative who also serves on the Laconia School Board, has since apologized on social media, according to a report from the Laconia Daily Sun. However, the apology is not visible on her Facebook page, and her Twitter account appears to have been removed from the platform.
She did not immediately respond to an email inquiring about whether she plans to resign either her seat in the House or on the school board. The email also requested the text of her apology. Johnson’s page on the N.H. General Court website does not list a phone number, and a search of the White Pages’ website did not offer a number for anyone in New Hampshire by her name.
According to the N.H. Union Leader, Johnson’s attorney Norm Silber said his client does not intend to resign but acknowledged that she made a mistake after sharing something from a source she wasn’t familiar with.
Newly elected Rep. Lawrence Welkowitz, D-Keene, says that typically, he’s able to understand where his political opponents are coming from even when he disagrees with them. But he said Johnson’s post “crossed the line.”
“Her post from a pro-Nazi website was so awful that I can’t begin to understand why she would support something so hateful,” Welkowitz told The Sentinel in an email. “I’ve personally sent a message to the Governor that she needs to resign.”
Sununu has spoken out against Johnson’s post and urged people from both sides of the political aisle to reject bigotry and racial bias.
“Regardless of political party, we must condemn antisemitism and racism in all forms,” Sununu said in a statement provided to The Sentinel by his spokesman Ben Vihstadt. “These comments are repugnant and appalling.”
Acting Speaker of the House Sherman Packard, a Londonderry Republican who assumed the role following the Dec. 9 death of newly elected Speaker Richard “Dick” Hinch, also addressed the post in a statement provided to The Sentinel by Chief of Staff Aaron Goulette.
“Anti-Semitism, racism, and hate speech are wrong and have no place in New Hampshire, our politics, or our state government,” Packard said.
State Democratic leadership has also spoken out against Johnson’s post. In a news release, Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester said it is the job of state representatives to ensure that New Hampshire is a safe place for all its residents.
Meanwhile, Kahn and Welkowitz aren’t the only elected officials from Cheshire County to weigh in on the matter.
Rep. Jennie Gomarlo, D-Swanzey, is also calling on Johnson to step down, and said she has reached out to the Laconia City Council to ask that they condemn Johnson’s actions. She asked how it’s possible to represent a constituency fairly if an elected official feels that some members of that community are less than others.
In today’s politically divisive environment, Gomarlo said, tolerating bias only adds fuel to the fire.
“As representatives we all need to start at a common place of wanting our state to be a better place for all our citizens,” she said in an email to The Sentinel. “There should be no place for hate or superiority.”
During a Zoom meeting of area Democrats Monday night, Rep. Lucius Parshall of Marlborough noted that he’s reached out to Laconia School Board Chairwoman Heather Lounsbury to request that she support calls for Johnson’s resignation. In his letter, which he posted to the Zoom chat for the meeting, he says this isn’t a question of free speech but of what message the board is sending to families and students.
“We’re putting our nose in their business, of course,” he said during the meeting, “but this affects everybody in the state.”