"Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which is a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history," Barr said during an event at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
The comment drew applause from the crowd.
Lockdown and stay-at-home orders by states across the country are meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Almost no states outside of California right now have any meaningful lockdowns, which in the spring lasted all of two weeks for most states.
Barr's comments were swiftly condemned.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the majority whip in the House of Representatives, told CNN that Barr's remarks were one of "the most ridiculous, tone deaf, God awful things I've ever heard."
"It is incredible that the chief law enforcement officer in this country would equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives, it was about devaluing the lives," Clyburn said. "This pandemic is a threat to human life, and the experts—the medical experts, the scientists—are telling us what it takes to respond successfully to this pandemic. And if this administration, this god awful duo of Trump and Barr, were going about the business of doing what was necessary to protect the people of this great country, we would be beyond this pandemic by now."
"It would have been great if we had a national lockdown so that people’s lives would be saved, and our children would be going on with their lives today as they should be. But that is just what we’re up against here. Two people in charge of running the law enforcement of this country are absolutely tone-deaf to what it takes to be great leaders."
Online, people were outraged over the comparison.
The attorney general also blasted governors across the country during his remarks on Wednesday, saying that they "defy common sense."
"Most of the governors do what bureaucrats always do, which is they … defy common sense," Barr said, according to CNN. "They treat free citizens as babies that can't take responsibility for themselves and others."