Albuquerque combat-sports coach Mike Winkeljohn, like many other Americans, clearly believes those in authority have overreached to the detriment of the people in imposing coronavirus-related restrictions.
He has not hesitated to express his concerns.
But in doing so, has he now crossed a line?
As first reported on Tuesday by the MMA website Bloody Elbow, Winkeljohn on Monday posted on Instagram a quote he attributed to Adolf Hitler accompanied by a photo purported to be of Hitler.
The photo, however, is of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, photoshopped with a Hitler-like mustache.
Winkeljohn attributes the quote, which describes a process through which democratic values can be taken away a little at a time – those changes going unnoticed until it’s too late – to “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s 1925 manifesto.
But the quote does not appear in “Mein Kampf.” Research conducted by the website politifact.com could not confirm that Hitler ever said or wrote the phrase in question, though Winkeljohn is not the first to attribute it to him.
In a phone interview with the Journal, Winkeljohn acknowledged his error. But he said he didn’t want the point he was trying to make to be obscured as a result.
“There’s no doubt I made a mistake,” he said, “in that I (misattributed) a quote that’s been used many, many times on the internet. … Yeah, I was wrong, so sorry about that. But my point is that there are other things which are more important. A lot of people aren’t going to talk about that.”
Asked if he believes that some in authority are using the pandemic as an excuse to take away certain freedoms, as his use of the quote suggests, he said, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Winkeljohn is a high-profile figure, locally, nationally and internationally, in the combat-sports world. With fellow coach and business partner Greg Jackson, he heads Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA, one of mixed martial arts’ most successful and influential concerns.
For at least a month, Winkeljohn has been posting and reposting sentiments critical of government restrictions and saying businesses should reopen. Like all New Mexico combat-sports gyms, Jackson-Wink has been shut down since March 23.
On April 16, Winkeljohn posted a video of himself, with his empty gym in the background, advocating relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions.
He said young and healthy people, less vulnerable to the virus, need to be able to make a living and support their families.
“I want to get back to work,” he said. “I think the quarantine is very important for people at risk. … We’ve got to keep them quarantined, keep them in a safe place.
“(But) I think everybody else has got to get back to work. … I think too many people are getting caught up in being on vacation and thinking the government is going to take care of them. History has shown that doesn’t work. Never has, and it’s not going to.”
On Tuesday, Winkeljohn said his concerns are not solely about opening his gym or about the economy in general.
“How many kids are being molested right now because nobody’s reporting it?” He said. “Kids aren’t going to school. Child molesters are stuck with kids 24/7. You think these things are going to go away? No, they’re going to increase.
“How many people are going to die from diseases and illnesses not being diagnosed because people can’t or are scared to go to the hospital? Ask the UN how many kids will die worldwide from malnutrition. How many families will go bankrupt and lose their health insurance? How many suicides?”
Late Monday, Winkeljohn posted audio of a 1976 campaign speech by future (1981-89) President Ronald Reagan, warning of the dangers of intrusive government. “Our leaders treat us like little children #notlivingthedream,” Winkeljohn wrote.
Some of Winkeljohn’s posts on the issue have drawn considerable praise.
“Great post!” wrote one individual, responding to Winkeljohn’s posting of the Reagan speech. “… many politicians are showing their true colors! Freaking puppets!!!”
Regarding the faux Hitler post, not so much.
“Stick to coaching before you lose the respect of all your fans,” wrote one contributor. “This quote isn’t something we want to see or hear. Bad choice here.”