This isn’t who we are, we told ourselves when the neighbors went shopping with swastikas wrapped around their heads.
Shoppers howled through their Nazi flag masks in the checkout aisle of a Walmart in Marshall on Saturday. That sort of thing simply does not happen in Minnesota, we told ourselves.
That’s not us.
Saturday was the first day Minnesota asked everybody to wear masks to protect everybody else, because there’s a pandemic going on.
COVID-19, which has killed nearly 150,000 Americans, has spread to every county in Minnesota. Including Lyon County, where state health officials found 409 cases and three deaths in and around Marshall.
Wearing a mask for a few minutes to maybe save a life isn’t too much to ask for most of us.
But not for all of us.
“If you vote for [Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden, you’re going to be living in Nazi Germany,” the woman in Walmart shouted through her swastika.
Imagine wrapping yourself in a Nazi flag and thinking it makes someone else look bad.
In Walmart that day, Raphaela Mueller, vicar of Healing Waters Evangelical Lutheran Church in Yellow Medicine County, raised her phone and started shooting video.
Mueller was born and raised in Germany, in a family of Nazi fighters, and she was not about to let swastikas pass unchallenged.
“I grew up hearing about my great-grandmother who fought in the underground against the first wave of Nazis in the 1930s and 40s,” she wrote in a Facebook post that quickly went viral.
“Let me make this abundantly clear once and for all,” she continued, switching to all caps, “THE SWASTIKA IS A HATE SYMBOL AND YOU DO NOT FLY THE FLAG, YOU DO NOT WEAR THE SYMBOL ANYWHERE ON YOUR BODY, YOU DO NOT USE OR DEFEND THIS SYMBOL, EVER. END OF STORY.”
Ask yourself what sort of Minnesotan keeps swastikas around the house, ready to sew them into masks for Hate Crime Craft Time. Ask yourself whether these two are the only two.
They looked so proud of themselves, wrapped in the flag that 326,000 Minnesotans fought to defeat.
Eight decades later, Minnesota’s still trying to defeat the Nazis.
Walmart has banned the couple from its stores. Someone punched the man right in the swastika on his way out the door.
We’ll probably learn their names at some point. Marshall is a small enough town where everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows who they are.
Because they’re one of us.
Just not the best of us.
The best of us are people on the other side. People like Raphaela Mueller, who don’t let bigots or racists or the cluelessly cruel pass unchallenged.
This is us, Minnesota. Choose your side.