Elections

Hilton Head woman running for mayor explains ‘admiring’ Hitler comments: ‘I’m not a Nazi’

Town of Hilton Head Island mayoral candidate Rochelle Williams is photographed on Tuesday.
Town of Hilton Head Island mayoral candidate Rochelle Williams is photographed on Tuesday. jkarr@islandpacket.com

A Hilton Head Island mayoral candidate whose remarks about Adolf Hitler sparked controversy this week explained her statements Friday and said her goal is to bring attention to native islanders’ concerns.

Rochelle Williams, herself a native islander and two-time mayoral candidate, was labeled a “Hitler admirer” in a Post and Courier story, and “pro-Nazi” in a subsequent tweet by a Washington Post columnist, after she told the Charleston newspaper she admired Hitler’s ability to wield power, and control and unite people.

She apologized for her remarks, which came around the time of an Aug. 28 candidate forum at Indigo Run that featured six other contenders, including “Holocaust revisionist” Michael Santomauro. His candidacy has attracted media attention and added a controversial wrinkle to what might otherwise have been an ordinary race.

Hilton Head mayoral candidates laid out their political platforms during a forum on Tuesday — mentioning issues such as transparency with the town council, development and the environment. But first, one candidate erupted after the first question.

If not for Santomauro, it’s unlikely that the Holocaust would have found its way into a South Carolina mayoral election. While Santomauro has a history of making explosive remarks regarding the Holocaust, Williams does not.

She said she used the opportunity while being interviewed by the Charleston newspaper to bring attention to her platform, and said if she wins, she will use her position as mayor to “restore fairness.”

“No, I’m not a Nazi,” Williams told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. “I just like the power (Hitler had politically).”

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Williams said she disagrees with Hitler’s racist agenda that resulted in the murder of millions of Jews. However, she admires the power the dictator had to change his community, because she doesn’t have it.

She said she’s been talking about problems in the native island community for 30 years. She ran for mayor in 2014 and came in fourth place in a race with five candidates.

Williams said that as a native islander, that she feels powerless when it comes to fixing major problems crippling her community — such as a lack of affordable housing, what she calls the “gerrymandering” of Town Council wards, and the inability to get bank loans and keep jobs on Hilton Head for native islanders.

“They have roadblocked us,” Williams said about a government she believes disenfranchises native islanders, saying Hilton Head is full of laws that “keep the poor down.”

She said native islanders lose land to richer real estate developers and are overlooked when it comes to jobs on Hilton Head.

Williams expressed regret Friday for the comments in the Post and Courier story, saying, “I apologize if I offended anyone.”

Unlike Santomauro, who questions the number of people killed by Nazis, Williams said she believes the Holocaust happened “because of the historical accounts” and said she is not anti-Semitic.

“What I was really trying to say is I like the power and the control (that Hitler had politically),” Williams said. But she’s not concerned about the effect her comments will have on her campaign.

“Oh no, at this point in my life, it’s a white world,” she said. “And I’m going to leave it in the hands of God.”

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