Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Raese compared anti-smoking signs in Monongalia County to a key part of the Holocaust, which killed millions of Jews.
The remarks, made at the Putnam County GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner a week earlier, set off a firestorm Thursday after national media outlets reported them.
National Jewish groups condemned Rease's words as inappropriate, insensitive and callous, but Raese defended his statements Thursday.
Raese, a Morgantown industrialist, spoke at the dinner about how he doesn't want government telling him what he can or can't do "because I'm an American."
"But in Monongalia County now, I have to put a huge sticker on my buildings to say this is a smoke-free environment," Raese said. "This is brought to you by the government of Monongalia County. OK?
"Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody's lapel, remember that?" Raese said. "Same thing."
Nazi authorities began forcing Jews to wear yellow Star of David badges beginning in 1939 in Poland, a practice that soon spread and became a key part of the Holocaust.
The badges were a means of segregating and identifying Jews. Jews who did not wear the badges could be fined, imprisoned or shot, according to The International School for Holocaust Studies.
People who violate the Monongalia County smoking ordinance face fines of up to $1,000.
During the speech, Raese also referenced New Deal-era Blue Eagle decals that business owners in the 1930s were encouraged to display as an endorsement of Roosevelt's economic ideas.
Raese, a blustery free-market capitalist, did not back down from his remarks.
"I can't find anything in my statement and during my speech that wasn't true," Raese said in a telephone interview.
He later added, "I'm not apologizing to anybody or any organization. It's my perfect right to make a speech about meaningful subject matters in this country."
Raese sternly dismissed the firestorm and blamed it on U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who Raese accused of playing "gotcha." Raese said a person with a camera was following him around, a tactic that campaigns in major races use to try to embarrass the other side. Raese's remarks were posted on YouTube by the user "Raese Flubs" and first reported by Politico. Raese is aiming to beat Manchin, D-W.Va., this fall. A story about the remarks was the top story Thursday morning at The Huffington Post, a left-leaning news site.
"I am not going to be intimidated by a bunch of bullshit," Raese said.
Raese attempted to contrast his remarks, which he said raised concerns about government "micromanagement" of private property, with what he called Manchin's "pabulum," a word that means bland and simplistic speech. Raese portrayed himself as trying to talk about bigger issues and instead ending up under siege for these particular remarks because of the "gotcha" game.
"You can split peas with anybody; the issues in West Virginia are not any concern with issues they are trying to band me around," Raese said.
Raese said his remarks in Putnam County were about government control and unchecked government power. "It's government trying to micromanage our business; it's wrong as can be," Raese said.
Raese said the government forcing him to put a sign on his building and the Nazi decision to single out Jews with badges were similar.
"It is a very similar situation," Raese said. "I resent it, and I don't put it on my particular office building.
"It might be smoking today, it might be Big Macs tomorrow, then Coca-Colas the next day, then Jack Daniels, then we're in trouble," he said.
Beginning about 1,300 years ago, other ethnic groups have sought to single out Jews by making them wear distinctive clothing, according to the online Encyclopaedia Judaica.
The Monongalia County health ordinance requires "No Smoking" signs to be prominently posted in buildings where smoking must be banned.