(Getty/Drew Angerer)

Beto O'Rourke is correct: Trump's immigration rhetoric is straight out of the Third Reich

Republicans will express outrage at O'Rourke's comments about Trump and the Nazis. But the evidence is clear


Chauncey DeVega
April 8, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

Beto O'Rourke is correct. While speaking last Thursday to a reporter from the Associated Press, the former Texas congressman had this to say about Donald Trump's racism and nativism:

Well, I compared the rhetoric that the president has employed to rhetoric that you might have heard during the Third Reich. Calling human beings an infestation is something that we might’ve expected to hear in Nazi Germany. Describing immigrants — who have a track record of committing violent crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans — as rapists and criminals. Seeking to ban all Muslims — all people of one religion — what other country on the face of the planet does that kind of thing? Or in our human history or in the history of the Western world?

Putting kids in cages? Saying that neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists are very fine people? You draw your own conclusions, but this is not something that I expected to hear a president of the United States of America ever say.

The evidence is overwhelming.

Donald Trump has repeatedly called Latino immigrants and refugees an "infestation" of "invaders," a race of rapists and criminals who are coming to America to reproduce, and by implication to "replace" white Americans. Trump has said, "These aren't people. These are animals." He was not speaking of migrants in general when he said that, but the rhetorical strategy at work here is to conflate gang members and other criminals with Latinos as a group.

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As a standard talking point, Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican Party and right-wing media also describe nonwhite immigrants, refugees, and migrants as being a "burden" to American society, which is inferred to be "white."

Donald Trump has even told Fox News' Sean Hannity that "illegal migrants" at the U.S.-Mexico border could be shot and killed.

This is eliminationist rhetoric ,designed to encourage or condone large-scale violence against a group of people that Donald Trump and his right-wing movement have identified as a racial enemy. Dehumanization and cruelty are central to this process.

Trump's attitudes and values are echoed across his administration.

It is the stated policy of Donald Trump as outlined by Stephen Miller -- a person can reasonably be described as a white supremacist -- to inflict as much cruelty and harm on the families of Latino immigrants and refugees as is "legally" possible in order to deter them from coming to America. This has included putting babies and children in concentration camps.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last December, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen did not even know how many people had died in the custody of the department she supposedly led. (This weekend, Trump reportedly forced Nielsen to resign.) That was not professional incompetence. It was indifference. The Trump administration has admitted that it has "lost" more than 1,400 children who were taken from their families.

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Hundreds of refugees from Central America were temporarily held under a bridge in El Paso, Texas, with little shelter or care, in what may have been a massive photo-op aimed at the Fox News audience.

There have been numerous reports of physical, sexual, psychological and other abuse by the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol and other government agents against refugee, migrant and immigrant women and children at the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere.

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As reported by Harper's Bazaar, young women and girls who have been imprisoned in Trump's detention centers have routinely been denied reproductive health services. An actual calendar of their menstrual cycles was kept as a means of tracking pregnancies and denying these women and girls the right to an abortion.

Refugees are facing mortal danger by being deported back to their home countries without due process.

Trumpism is a social pathology that has infected a large swath of the American public. The president sets an example for the public's behavior, and during Trump's time in office there has been a significant increase in hate crimes and other political violence against nonwhites and other groups deemed as "un-American" by Trump and his allies.

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Counties which hosted Trump rallies in 2016 subsequently experienced a 200 percent increase in hate crimes. Trump-inspired political violence includes such horrific incidents as the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the New Zealand mosque attacks and the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. A Trump admirer threatened to kill prominent Democrats and members of the news media with mail bombs. A 55-year-old New York man was recently arrested for planning to assassinate Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., because he "hates radical Muslims in our government". A Coast Guard officer was arrested with a huge cache of weapons. His apparent goal was to wage a "race war" and kill journalists and Democrats in order to protect Trump from impeachment.

Donald Trump and his movement's eliminationist rhetoric, impulses, and behavior are nothing new.

In its primer "The 8 Stages of Genocide," the human rights group Genocide Watch offers the following warnings and guidance. "Genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process."

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These stages are:

  1. CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. ...
  2. SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies,” or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. ...
  3. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.
  4. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility. ...
  5. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. ...
  6. PREPARATION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. ...
  7. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. ...
  8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. ...

As with Donald Trump's pseudo-fascist rise to power, Genocide Watch's model of eliminationist violence will continue adapt itself to America's particular social and political culture.

Trump and his administration's physical and psychological warfare against nonwhite immigrants, migrants, and refugees is a combination of philosopher Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" mixed with craven greed and raw, unadulterated right-wing ideology.

Many Americans have succumbed to outrage fatigue. Others, including white Christian conservatives, enthusiastically support Trump's campaign of cruelty against brown and black people.  Some Americans are actively resisting Trumpism and the threat it represents to our democracy, but most Americans are too exhausted, overwhelmed or distracted, and have surrendered to learned helplessness.

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These are explanations and not excuses, a diagnosis for passivity when confronted by evil. The American people would be wise to heed the words of Beto O'Rourke: "These are the consequences of our silence. Silence is complicity in what this administration is doing.”


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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