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‘Joe the Plumber,’ activist who said gun control doomed Europe’s Jews, dies at 49

Samuel Wurzelbacher became a Republican celebrity in 2008 after confronting former President Barack Obama about his economic policies

Samuel Wurzelbacher, known as “Joe the Plumber” after confronting former President Barack Obama about his economic policies during the 2008 campaign, died at age 49 on Monday.

Wurzelbacher, a Christian, came under fire in 2012 for likening Democratic gun-control proposals to Nazi policies. In a video for his campaign for a U.S. House seat in Ohio, Wurzelbacher claimed that the enforcement of gun control measures prevented European Jews from resisting the Nazis.

“In 1939, Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945, 6 million Jews and 7 million others unable to defend themselves were exterminated,” he said in the video.

The then-candidate pushed back, saying he never mentioned the word “Holocaust,” but doubled down on the comparison. “What I did say, which is very factual, is that Hitler instituted gun control laws. Unfortunately, because people were not able to protect themselves, some really terrible and horrific things happened.”

Wurzelbacher became famous after a 2008 incident in which he challenged Obama over tax policy. The late Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, repeatedly cited “Joe the Plumber” in a presidential debate. He then became a mainstay at Republican events, speaking at Tea Party rallies and conservative gatherings. During the presidential campaign, Wurzelbacher also suggested that “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.” 

He visited Israel for 10 days during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in 2009, assigned as a war reporter for the conservative website Pajamas TV. “The people of Sderot can’t do normal things day to day, like get soap in their eyes in the shower, for fear a rocket might come in,” Wurzelbacher said in one of his reporting segments. “I’m sure they’re taking quick showers. I know I would.”

He also berated the Israeli press for not being patriotic enough about their country during times of war. 

Wurzelbacher had been battling pancreatic cancer. 

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