'Politicians have to know better': Activist criticizes MLA for quoting Nazi in deleted tweet

An Alberta associate minister is facing criticism for tweeting, then deleting, a quote attributed to a prominent figure from Nazi Germany.

MLA Grant Hunter, the province's associate minister of red tape reduction, sent out the tweet on Saturday.

It read: "Wernher von Braun said, 'To conquer the universe you'd have to solve two problems: gravity and red tape.' We've made it clear that we are committed to reducing red tape in Alberta. Lots more to come...."

The quote came from an opinion piece linked by Hunter in his tweet.

That op-ed, written by news manager of the Corus Edmonton group of radio stations Bob Layton, was still live on the Global News website as of Saturday evening — the article had been edited to remove the quote around 7 p.m.

An editor's note at the top of the article read: "This editorial has been updated to remove a quotation which lacked context and clarity. Its inclusion may have unintentionally offended some readers."

An embedded video of Layton reading the quote aloud had also been removed.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Hunter's tweet was posted at 1 p.m. Saturday, and deleted approximately an hour later. He then reposted a link to the article, minus the quote from von Braun.

Hunter's press secretary said Saturday the minister would be unavailable for an interview, and declined to send a comment, instead suggesting CBC News contact Global/CHED/Corus.

A Corus spokesperson said the quote has been removed from the article as it lacked context and clarity, and that the company does "understand that its inclusion may have unintentionally offended some readers."

"It was an unnecessary quote," said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"He's at best a controversial figure. He is for sure a Nazi and … it was silly to quote a man like him. Politicians have to know better," Farber said. "I just think it shows his [Hunter's] thoughtlessness."

Von Braun was an aerospace engineer and SS officer who developed the V-2 ballistic missile for the Nazis during the Second World War. The missiles were used in the London Blitz and were built at a concentration camp by prisoners — thousands of whom died at the camp.

He's got to be very careful about using language associated with Nazis. - Lori Williams, political scientist

The former Nazi SS officer later came to the United States, where he used his expertise to become a central player in the development of the U.S. space program.

Von Braun is seen by some as "not a 'real' Nazi … many critics and many survivors of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp, on the other hand, see him as an unprincipled opportunist or even a convinced Nazi who was directly responsible for the deaths of 20,000 prisoners," according to an article published in the academic journal German Studies Review.

Farber, whose organization monitors hate groups, said he doesn't think people's concerns about the quote's use are being overblown. It would have been easy to quote a Canadian economist or another figure on the topic of red tape, he said.

"I just think [Hunter] should acknowledge he should have made a better choice in terms of who to quote and apologize," Farber said. "That's always the way forward out of things like this to acknowledge your mistake and move forward."

Lori Williams, a political scientist with Mount Royal University, said in the age of social media, it's important to be careful about sharing a quote unless you know the source.

"To simply repeat a quotation without naming the source might look a little bit less problematic. But to actually say the name of a Nazi officer and then quote it, highly problematic."

Williams said the tweeted quote may be viewed against the backdrop of other comments Hunter has made.

"And it would be a little bit different had it not been that he … made comments about the superior stock about the people in his constituency, and actually used the word Aryan, misspelled it," Williams said, referring to a 2010 letter to the editor Hunter submitted to the Cardston Temple City Star.

"He's got to be very careful about using language associated with Nazis."

Controversial comments

The Taber-Warner MLA is no stranger to controversy.

In 2016, Hunter was one of eight then-Wildrose MLAs who signed a column comparing the carbon tax to the genocide of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. The party later apologized.

In 2018, he apologized after comparing the NDP's 2015 election victory to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people, the Taber Times reported.

Williams said his accumulated comments could pose a political problem.

"If you put together an accumulation of these kind of remarks, failed policies, broken promises, some of the scandals that have been associated with the leadership campaign, all that stuff put together could accumulate into something that could be much more problematic in the next election," Williams said.

"If it happens again, I think the party is going to have to look carefully at whether they want to continue to have him represent them because it could start to blow back on the party."

The United Conservative Party has not responded to a request for comment.