Prairie dogs and Nazis are an unlikely pairing for headlines. But that’s the news from Boulder recently as elected officials addressed controversial comments from one of their own and attempted to temper the backlash with an official declaration.
Boulder Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle equated the city’s planned gassing of prairie dogs, a means of controlling their population on city-owned farmland, to Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Critics who condemned her initial remarks were not swayed by Nagle’s followup statement this week.
The controversy stems from a postcard mailed to members of Boulder City Council this fall following an 8-1 vote to use lethal control on burgeoning prairie dog populations. “’Humane Gassing’ (Isn’t that what the German Nazis called it when they did it to the Jews?)” it read. The postcard pictured members of the council at the dais. Nagle, the only dissenting vote, was depicted with a halo above her head.
During informal, pre-meeting chatter on Jan. 26, Councilman Mark Wallach referenced the postcard. Wallach, who is Jewish, decried the comparison to the Holocaust as odious and offensive.
“What makes us different?” Nagle countered. “We’re gassing 30,000? prairie dogs.
Wallach again rebuffed the comparison of animal management practices “to the systematic, industrial execution of entire races of people,” including distant members of his own family.
“I would disagree with that,” Nagle said.
That conversation was cut short as official business began and not included in recorded materials, but the exchange was captured by local media in attendance and reported by the Daily Camera the following day. Community groups and individual council members rebuked Nagle in various statements.
“It is our fervent hope that the Boulder City Council will collectively issue a public denouncement and condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Councilwoman Nagle and publicly re-affirm its commitment to the cultural diversity and inclusivity of its community,” wrote Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, president and CEO of Rose Community Foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit with ties to the Jewish community.
During a meeting on Tuesday, with an image of prairie dogs serving as her Zoom background, Nagle said those “few sentences” were an “incomplete and inflammatory” snapshot of her thoughts and blamed the media for “reckless” tweeting of an “abbreviated conversation.”
“This incomplete conversation, which has now been quoted all over the media, in no way represents my full views on this situation,” she said in a prepared statement that she read. “I had no intention to minimize the immense human suffering that resulted from the murders perpetrated during the Holocaust. I regret that my statements caused pain to those listening and to those who read incomplete accounts of them, and I am sorry.”
Though she did say the Holocaust was one of “the most abhorrent acts of all time,” Nagle also defended her comparison, using the words of two Jewish writers to argue that violence against animals often leads or desensitizes people to violence against humans.
“The bottom line is, do you value human lives over animal lives?” Nagle said. “Or do you value all lives equally? I believe that all life is precious. … These are my values, my morals and my opinions. No one need agree with them. However, I am allowed to have them. As each of you, is allowed to have your own.”
Council members Rachel Friend and Aaron Brockett, who helped author council’s official declaration along with Wallach, pushed back on her criticisms of the media.
“I’m very uncomfortable pointing fingers at the media,” Friend added. “I think they are doing their job when they report on things that we say.”
It’s not the first time Nagle’s words from the dais have drawn the ire of community members. In November 2019, her defense of white, male candidates for mayor and rejection of calls for diversity prompted City Council to rush a resolution on racial equity.
Nagle was elected to the Boulder city council in 2017, following activism opposing redevelopment of the Armory site in North Boulder that necessitated the removal of prairie dogs. Nagle’s term ends in November. It’s unknown whether she plans to run for reelection. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Boulder City Council released its own statement condemning Holocaust equivalencies as “unacceptable and harmful.” Nagle was not explicitly mentioned in the text.
“Several Boulder City Council members recently received a postcard that offensively compared the euthanizing of prairie dogs to the Holocaust,” it reads. “That comparison was unacceptable and harmful, as are any and all endorsements of the views stated in that postcard. … It is incumbent on each of us to ensure that our words and actions align with promoting peace, inclusivity, and understanding.”
Nagle indicated her support for the declaration, scheduled for adoption Feb. 16.
The Anti-Defamation League, which also rebuffed Nagle’s initial remarks, said Wednesday her followup statement was “disappointing.”
“She’s had every opportunity (to apologize) and instead has chosen to double down,” said Scott Levin, executive director of ADL Mountain States. “It unfortunately seems to be a rationalization” of her previous comments.
Rose Community Foundation’s Lent, in a message relayed by a spokesperson via Twitter direct messaging, wrote, “We very much appreciate that Boulder City Council collectively addressed this matter. Beyond that, we’ll let our original letter speak for itself.”
Levin said he understands Nagle’s passion for animal welfare. He does not believe Nagle, who is Jewish, had anti-Semitic intent — but neither does her heritage excuse the harm her words caused.
“Whether she’s Jewish or not doesn’t make any difference,” Levin said. “It’s not justification for comparing something that is not really comparable.”
“The Holocaust is a singular time in our history because of its scope and scale, and also its intent. This was specific to a program to eradicate Jews from the world, as well as people who were disabled, Roma,” LGBTQ individuals and other groups, he said. “These kinds of comments about the Holocaust in that context (are) really, really unhelpful, especially at a time when we’re living in an age of rising anti-Semitism.”
Editor’s note: Disclosure – The reporter participated in a fundraising campaign led by and will receive funds from Colorado Media Project, of which Rose Community Foundation is a fiscal sponsor.
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Governance Prairie dogs Aaron Brockett Anti-Defamation League Boulder city council city of Boulder Colorado Newsline declaration Holocaust Jewish Mark Wallach Mirabai Nagle Rachel Friend resolution Rose Community Foundation