Alaska is learning a hard lesson right now: Racists go to the Department of Motor Vehicles too.
A social media post of a license plate referencing the Nazi regime has triggered an internal review of the state’s guidelines for vanity plates, and a government official who said the license plate simply used German words has reportedly been removed from her post on Alaska’s Human Rights Commission.
Retired newspaper editor Matt Tunseth posted a photo on Twitter on January 22 of a black Hummer in Anchorage with the license plate “3REICH,” a reference to Adolf Hitler’s fascist Nazi regime.
“After doing a spit take and giving my eyeballs time to pop back into their sockets, I grabbed my phone and took a quick picture before watching the vehicle drive away,” Tunseth wrote in a Medium post Tuesday. “If you’ve seen the picture and you have soul, you might have had a similar feeling to me—a mix of disgust, bemusement, resignation, fear.”
The tweet quickly took off, prompting outrage from local residents, at least one Alaska elected official, and Americans across the lower 48. On Monday, in the wake of the tweet, Alaska officials ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles to reassess its guidelines for vanity license plates.
“I am ordering a review of DMV guidelines and processes to determine how these plates were issued and to ensure that Alaska’s personalized plate program continues to protect the public’s interest,” Alaska Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said in a statement. “Both in terms of preventing inappropriate messages, and also the state’s obligation to protect Alaskans’ constitutional rights to free speech.”
Since Tunseth’s tweet, the Anchorage Daily News reported that another black Hummer with the license plate “FUHRER” was photographed and reported to the DMV by a Jewish woman back in October.
But not all of Alaska’s government officials agreed with the DOA’s decision to address the issue.
Anchorage Assemblywoman Jamie Allard defended the license plate in now-deleted comments on a Facebook post Monday, arguing that censoring someone’s use of the word “Reich” is a step too far.
“Fuhrer means leader or guide in Deutsch, Reich is realm,” she wrote, referring to the German language. “The progressives have put a spin on it and created their own definition. Now, before you know it, the German word Danke will be outlawed as it sounds too close to Donkey.”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has removed Allard from her post on the state’s Human Rights Commission, according to the Associated Press and local outlets. Allard has since deactivated her Facebook page, according to a reporter for the Anchorage Press. The web page for the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights showed a “vacant” position on Wednesday afternoon.
When contacted for comment, Allard said she does find the license plate offensive and mentioned her South American heritage, but she did not backtrack from her recent comments.
“I understand some have misinterpreted my recent comments as defending a specific license plate,” she said in an email to VICE News. “That was never my intention, nor have I done so. In fact, I find the plate in question in poor taste. I do not support any advocation of racism or race supremacy in any way."
"Some political bloggers and Assembly members are claiming that I am supporting white supremacy because of recent comments I made questioning what words are not allowed on license plates,” she continued. “Let me state this plainly, my father was 100% Chilean, and I am proud of my heritage as a Chilean Latina. As a person of color myself, I unequivocally condemn racism and white supremacy in all forms.”
License plates have become a battleground for free speech advocates in recent years, even prompting legal conflicts about what should be allowed, and what is too indecent. Last November, a U.S. District Judge in California ruled that the state’s DMV could not ban vanity plates it considers too offensive, as it violates free speech, according to CBS San Francisco affiliate KPIX. In 2018, a California man reported a Kansas license plate with a slur against Japanese people, according to the New York Times. Kansas would eventually recall 731 license plates that featured the slur.