Skip To Content
Fast Forward

‘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. 

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.