How did Nazi references get on Alaska license plates?

A white woman in a blue blouse speaks in front of a podium in front of several other men
Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka answers questions on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s newest budget proposal Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, at the Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Within a few days, Alaska officials expect to share more about how the Division of Motor Vehicles approved and issued a pair of personalized license plates referencing Nazi Germany.

One refers to the Third Reich, and the other spells out “fuhrer,” two phrases associated with Nazism.

A black Hummer with the license plate “3REICH” waits at a stoplight in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy Matt Tunseth)

The Alaska Department of Administration oversees the DMV. Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka announced Monday the license plates in question “had previously been recalled by the DMV.” Tshibaka ordered a review of DMV guidelines and processes.

Administration spokesperson Kelly Hanke said the plates’ owners were notified in writing that their plates were invalidated, and issued new ones.

RELATED: Anchorage Assemblywoman removed from Human Rights Commission over comments defending Nazi terminology

Hanke said part of what’s being reviewed is what physically happens to recalled plates. The Anchorage Daily News reported one of the Nazi plates was spotted in traffic near downtown Anchorage on Friday evening.

Juneau Rep. Sara Hannan said she had messages waiting from constituents about the plates when she went into the office on Saturday morning. She and others emailed the department, asking it be looked into.

Rep. Sara Hannan in 2019. (Skip Gray/360 North)

“I want to applaud the administration for rapidly answering it, you know?” she said. “This all blew up … in my world, on Saturday, and they answered it on Monday, and they have said in an email that they expect to have their review of this issue with the specific plate back out by the end of the week.”

At least one conservative Alaska commentator and an Anchorage elected official have defended the license plates as expressions of free speech. Gov. Mike Dunleavy apparently didn’t see it that way, and removed Anchorage Assembly Member Jamie Allard from the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights because of her support for the plates.

Rep. Hannan said you don’t have a right to free speech on government-issued license plates.

“And certainly for free speech rights, you can put a bumper sticker, you can paint it on the side of your car, but the government shouldn’t empower you and assist you in elevating that kind of speech,” she said.

Coincidentally, Wednesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United Nations established it to commemorate the day the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland, was liberated during World War II, and to remember the millions of Jews and others murdered by the Nazis.

Jeremy Hsieh

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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