Pundits on both sides of the aisle have drawn parallels between President Donald Trump’s controversial family separation policy and detention of child migrants and Nazi concentration camps — but this is far from the first time the president or his aides have flirted with genocide.
Whether on the campaign trail or from the Oval Office, Trump has for years now echoed the racist rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ilk when it comes to people who immigrate to America or stand in the way of his rise to power.
Below are nine examples of times candidate and President Trump and his top staffers and surrogates have employed Nazi-esque rhetoric to justify his policies.
1. Calls for a Muslim “database” or “watchlist.”
In November 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate Trump made international headlines when he claimed he would “certainly” implement a database or registry that tracks Muslims in the United States. After his comments drew immediate backlash, he clarified in a tweet that he was more interested in a “watch list” and “surveillance” of Muslims.
I didn't suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2015
In 1938, the Nazi German government began requiring Jews with “non-Jewish names” to add either “Israel” (for men) or “Sarah” (for women) to their names to immediately mark them as Jewish — a precursor to the yellow stars they were soon required to wear. In addition, Jews were required to carry identification cards that marked their heritage, and all Jewish passports were stamped with a large “J.”
2. His “America First” slogan that was used by American Nazi sympathizers.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
After he’d all-but-secured the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016, Trump unveiled a new campaign slogan that paralleled his “Make America Great Again” brand by tweeting and later saying in speeches that he wants to put “America first.”
The “America First” motto, however, has a sordid history in the United States. Prominent isolationists (and later Nazi sympathizers) founded the “America First Committee” to decry U.S. participation in what was to become World War II. Chief among them was “Spirit of St. Louis” pilot Charles Lindbergh, who later accepted a medal from ranking Nazi official Hermann Goering on behalf of Fuhrer Hitler.
Though he professed to believe that America benefitted from “a few Jews of the right type,” Lindbergh claimed “we are all disturbed about the effect of the Jewish influence in our press, radio, and motion pictures.” He also believed the U.S. should enter a war only to “defend the white race against foreign invasion.”
3. The “Lock Her Up” chant and cries to investigate and jail political opponents.
After an initial lukewarm dismissal of his followers frenzied cries to “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton, Trump admitted in late July of 2016 that he was “starting to agree” with their sentiment. Ultimately, it became a fixture on his campaign events and continued long after his election, and he’s doubled down repeatedly by calling for an investigation into various scandals associated with the Clintons.
Though jailing political opponents has been a practice undertaken by everyone from the Soviet Union to the United States, the Nazis took persecution of their nemeses to an entirely different level. Hitler’s rise to power came after deputizing his secret police to arrest, torture and sometimes kill Communists. Later, thousands of other opponents were jailed for “political crimes” and were often sent to concentration camps.
4. The times Trump retweeted neo-Nazis
In November 2015 and again in November 2017, Trump retweeted phony posts about “crimes” carried out by minorities from neo-Nazi figures.
On November 22, 2015, Trump tweeted a graphic that promoted the “black-on-black crime” myth that cited crime statistics from the nonexistent “Crime Statistics Bureau — San Francisco.” Brief online sleuthing revealed that the graphic was not only completely inaccurate, but that it was first posted by a neo-Nazi Twitter user whose avatar contained a swastika.
The Republican candidate who is leading in the polls just tweeted this. pic.twitter.com/NRRjPsC9kF
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) November 22, 2015
Two years later, the president appeared to not have learned his lesson when he retweeted a series of posts from Jayda Fransen, a now-jailed leader of the neo-Nazi Britain First group. Fransen’s Trump-retweeted posts depicted staged or edited videos of supposed Muslims doing violence, and less than a month after he retweeted them, the fascistic Brit had her Twitter account suspended for violating the company’s hate speech guidelines.
#TrumpTweets: #Trump shows he is either an idiot or a fascist sympathiser by re-tweeting three amateurish staged events that were previously tweeted by Jayda Fransen, an extreme British fascist, for the sole purpose of stirring up racial hatred, specifically against Muslims: pic.twitter.com/lz9JCoXn1r
— Emperador de Venezuela (@Ian_Flaming) November 29, 2017
5. Kellyanne Conway’s insistence on “alternative facts.”
Mere days after Trump was sworn into office, his adviser and onetime campaign manager Kellyanne Conway took to MSNBC to defend the White House’s seemingly-edited photos of the inauguration. In doing so, she launched one of this administration’s most enduring memes — and also gave a chillingly open reminder that she’s in the business of propaganda.
When reporters pointed out that Trump’s inaugural crowd was significantly smaller than both of President Barack Obama’s, Conway told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that then-press secretary Sean Spicer “gave alternative facts” to the claim.
Though many found the phrase and the claim that inspired it ridiculous, the practice of encouraging followers to disbelieve what they see with their own eyes was well-known to propagandists working for fascist European regimes before and during World War II.
The Nazis were masters of propaganda, moving from successful efforts to capitalize upon Germany’s struggles after World War II and blame it on the Jews to creating an entire film industry that promoted their lies. Truth had no place in Nazi Germany, even when it was as readily apparent to the naked eye as Spicer’s inaugural crowd size lies.
6. Sean Spicer’s bogus claim that Hitler “didn’t sink to” use of chemical weapons
There’s nothing more Nazi-like than incorrect statements about the atrocities committed by Hitler — and the former press secretary did exactly that in April of 2017.
Discussing the alleged chemical attack on the Syrian people by their president, Bashar al-Assad, Spicer erroneously stated that “someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When journalists at the briefing noted that the Nazi leader gassed Jews and other groups imprisoned in his concentration camps, the press secretary doubled down.
“He was not using his gas on his own people the same way Assad was,” Spicer said.
The comments drew the chagrin of many, including CNN host Wolf Blitzer whose parents both survived the Holocaust. Blitzer made Spicer apologize in detail on live TV after the controversial (and false) comments.
7. Trump’s flattering references to the Confederacy and neo-Nazi protesters
In the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, the president not only referenced the “very fine people” on “both sides” of the violent white supremacist demonstrations, but also their stated goal of “defending” a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
As the debates surrounding the United States’ hundreds of monuments to the pro-slavery Confederacy have raged on, it’s become increasingly common knowledge that the Nazis were inspired by American Jim Crow laws and modeled much of their persecution of Jews after it. The Confederate battle flag and monuments to the failed government were often re-introduced into Southern states in the wake of Jim Crow laws, likely as a means to intimidate black citizens.
8. Calling undocumented immigrants “animals” who “infest” the U.S.
In a meeting with a group of sheriffs in May 2018, Trump upped his anti-immigrant rhetoric when he said people who enter America’s borders illegally are “animals.”
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” the president said. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
He later tried to claim that he was making an obvious reference to the Salvadoran gang MS-13 with the “animals” comment, but his dehumanizing, Hitleresque rhetoric became even clearer on June 19 when he tweeted that undocumented immigrants “infest” the United States.
Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018
Aviya Kushner at The Forward noted shortly after Trump’s “infest” tweet that the concept of Jew as vermin was a popular one in Nazi German — and even inspired a German propaganda film whose title translated to “The Eternal Jew.”
9. Kirstjen Nielsen’s claim that Homeland Security and ICE just doing their jobs.
Nazi leaders during the Nuremberg Trials: "We were just following orders.”
Trump Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “We’re just doing our job.”
— Ryan Knight 🇺🇸 (@ProudResister) June 18, 2018
As the Trump administration spins its wheels in attempts to justify the widely-reviled family separation policy, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed that she and the department would not apologize for doing their jobs — a comment strikingly similar to defenses used by Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials.
Nielsen, ThinkProgress noted, is not the only Trump administration official using what’s become known as the “Nuremberg defense.” After World War II, the Allied Forces held a series of military tribunals in attempts to bring Nazi officials to justice for their crimes during the Holocaust. Many offered the same defense: “Befehl ist Befehl,” which translates from German to “an order is an order.”
The concept of people down the chain of command committing atrocities due to being ordered by a superior was deployed with varying degrees of success both before and after the Nuremberg trials, but the phrase “just following orders” has become closely associated with former Nazis.