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Sen. Frank Niceley compares unhoused people to Hitler during discussion on bill effectively punishing homelessness

The comment was made during a discussion about a bill that would effectively criminalize homelessness, threatening felony penalties against people camping outside.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Wednesday, lawmakers gathered in Tennessee to discuss a bill that would effectively punish homelessness, threatening felony penalties against people who camp on local public property, including in parks.

Many Democrat lawmakers argued against the bill, and four Republicans joined in opposition against the bill, but it still passed in the Senate, in a 20-10 vote. A version of the bill has already passed in the House of Representatives, and now the differences will need to be resolved before heading to the Governor's desk.

During a discussion of the bill, Senator Frank Niceley (R - Strawberry Plains) spoke in defense of the bill. He compared people living in homeless camps to Hitler, while also trying to use Hitler as an example of how they could work their way out of homelessness.

The full comment is available below.

“I haven’t given y’all a history lesson in a while, and I want to give you a little history on homelessness. [In] 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while. So, for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language, and how to connect with the masses, and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books. So, it’s not a dead end. They can come out of this, these homeless camps, and live a productive life. Or in Hitler’s case, an unproductive life.”

Advocates say that homelessness is a multifaceted issue with several components impacting people's ability to find stable housing. One of the biggest reasons in Knoxville is a lack of affordable housing, followed by evictions. However, issues like domestic violence and mental illness also contribute to people living on the streets.

Sen. Niceley's comments spread quickly online, with articles posted in major national outlets. It was also shared widely on social media, drawing the ire of constituents.

Reporters with WBIR reached out to Sen. Niceley's office for a comment on Thursday. There was no response.

Adolf Hitler, the fascist leader of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, went on to kill around 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust. The Nazi regime was eventually toppled following around 4 years of brutal fighting in World War II. He died by suicide on April 30, 1945, as Soviet troops stormed Berlin towards the end of the war.

When he was around 18 years old, Hitler moved to Vienna aiming to attend an art academy and become an artist. When he first arrived in the city, he lived with a friend from his hometown. He was not admitted into the school, and the admissions committee said his drawing skills were unsatisfactory.

He applied for the school again, and again he was not let in. By the fall of 1908, he was moving from cheap room to cheap room. He lived in a homeless shelter for a time, too.

Hitler started to find a stable income by making small oil and watercolor paintings in 1909, mostly illustrating scenes of Vienna. Some historians say that Hitler's interest in politics started to take root during this time, as he spoke with people in similar situations on the street.

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