Couple wears Nazi flags inside Walmart to protest face mask mandate

    A woman and man wore Nazi flags inside a Walmart in Marshall, Minn. to protest the statewide mask mandate aimed a curbing the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Raphaela Mueller.

    A couple wore Nazi flags wrapped around their faces into the Walmart in Marshall on Saturday in protest of the state’s mask mandate aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

    Raphaela Mueller, a German descendant of a Nazi resister, saw the couple in the store and immediately felt nauseated, she told the Reformer. She approached a manager about the couple when the pair appeared in the check-out line. Mueller then took a picture of the woman giving the Nazi salute and then started recording the incident on her phone, which she posted to Facebook.

    “I was crying when I was taking the video,” said Mueller, who lives near Marshall and is training to become a Lutheran pastor. “This is really traumatic to see something like this because we all know what happened during the Holocaust. To be so blatantly disrespectful is so hurtful.”

    In the video, the couple is shown giving Mueller and her partner, Benjamin Ruesch, the middle finger as they confront her.

    “You’re sick,” Ruesch tells them on camera. “You can’t be American and wear that mask. You cannot. We literally had a war about this.”

    The woman in the mask replies: “If you vote for Biden, you’re going to be in Nazi Germany. That’s what it’s going to be like.”

    Mueller was born and raised in Germany and says her great-grandmother was a Nazi resister during the 1930s and ’40s.

    On Facebook, she wrote: “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.”

    Walmart began requiring customers wear masks before the governor’s order took effect. A manager at the store, Kari Metheny, confirmed the incident but referred all other questions to Walmart’s corporate communications department.

    In a statement issued to KARE-11 Saturday night, a Walmart spokesperson said the couple was served trespass notices which bans them from visiting any Walmart for a year.

    “What happened today at our store in Marshall, MN is unacceptable. We strive to provide a safe and comfortable shopping environment for all our customers and will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment in any aspect of our business. We are asking everyone to wear face coverings when they enter our stores for their safety and the safety of others and it’s unfortunate that some individuals have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to create a distressing situation for customers and associates in our store,” the spokesperson said.

    Someone in the store called the police on the couple, which sent officers to serve trespass notices, according to Marshall Police Sergeant Jason Buysse.

    “We were dispatched there at 11:46 (a.m.) regarding a male and female wearing face masks that were causing a disturbance in the store. Our officers were requested to serve trespass notices and nobody involved in the incident wanted to pursue any criminal charges,” said Buysse, who declined to confirm the couple’s identity over concerns for their safety.

    Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order on Wednesday requiring everyone in the state to wear face coverings inside stores, restaurants and other places of accommodation.

    Masks can slow the spread of COVID-19 and are recommended by both the World Health Organization and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the governor had for weeks resisted a statewide mandate, saying he needed more buy-in from Republicans.

    President Donald Trump, who had long resisted wearing masks and even mocked them, tweeted a photo of himself wearing one last week saying it was “patriotic.”

    Still, Walz’s order faced swift backlash from state Republicans who decried the “one-size-fits-all” approach.

    * This story was updated with comment from Walmart

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.