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Did the Trump administration send a coded signal to neo-Nazis?

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- Commentary

When there is no low beneath which a president and his administration will not sink, and no rule or norm which he, his allies and his supporters will not break, almost anything is possible. This atmosphere of chaos and unpredictability is one of Donald Trump’s great political advantages.

This article was originally published at Salon

Last week, reporters and those others who monitor hate groups and extremist movements called attention to a little noticed press release issued in February by the Department of Homeland Security. Its title was unremarkable, at least by the standards of Trump administration propaganda: “We Must Secure the Border and Build the Wall to Make America Safe Again.”

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Two things about that title have now attracted notice. It consists of 14 words, and its phrasing is strikingly similar to the 14 words of the neo-Nazi movement’s semi-official slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Just a coincidence? Probably. But the DHS release also contained another odd passage where, instead of using percentages or presenting statistics as a proportion of 10 or 100, as is routine, specific numbers were used: “On average, out of 88 [asylum] claims that pass the credible fear screening, fewer than 13 will ultimately result in a grant of asylum.”

The number 88 has a special significance to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, as does the number 14. At Law and Crime, Colin Kalmbacher explains: “The ’14 words’ are frequently used in conjunction with the number 88 because ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet and therefore 88 becomes ‘HH’ which stands for ‘Heil Hitler.'” Kalmbacher observes that in addition to its 14-word headline, the DHS release also contains “14 distinct sets of claims; 13 of which are bullet-pointed–one of which is not.”

In the Jewish publication the Forward, Aviya Kushner sums up the case concisely:

In the case of the DHS press release, it may be coincidence — or it may be more, a signal to those who know the system of codes.

What can be said for sure is this: It is unusual to use the statistic “13 out of 88.” It could, of course, be a typo. And the headline bearing the requisite “14 words” is not soothing for anyone who has spent time with hate databases.

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The Department of Homeland Security has denied that the press release contains any sinister or hidden meanings. Read in isolation, perhaps the apparent Nazi-signaling language in an official U.S. government document is just an unfortunate coincidence. Why do we even have to ask the question? Because when we examine this coincidence in a larger context, the uneasy feeling never goes away.

Consider the following:

  1. Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency have been openly supported by white supremacists and racists, including neo-Nazi groups and the Ku Klux Klan.
  2. Trump’s administration is waging a campaign to destroy the families of nonwhite immigrants and drive them out of the country.
  3. Trump’s rise has triggered an increase in racist hate crimes and other types of violence. A record number of neo-Nazis, Klan members and other overt white supremacists are running for public office.
  4. Trump has issued an executive order banning Muslims from the United States, has referred to various nonwhite countries as “shithole nations” and has suggested that the people of Puerto Rico were lazy in their response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
  5. Trump’s administration is seeking to radically reduce immigration from nonwhite countries in an apparent campaign to protect the numerical superiority of white people in America.
  6. Trump has targeted prominent African-Americans for harassment, suggesting they are “traitors” if they dare to protest police brutality and other forms of institutional racism.
  7. Trump has described nonwhite immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere with all sorts of hateful language, calling them “vermin,” “snakes” and “rapists” and suggesting they are “infesting” the United States. This is similar to the eliminationist rhetoric used by the Nazis to describe Jews, the Roma people and other groups targeted for annihilation.
  8. Trump has said that a judge’s ancestry — in this case, being Mexican-American — meant the judge had a primal and instinctive inability to treat him fairly. This is the very definition of “blood and soil” racism.
  9. Trump’s administration is systematically undermining the civil rights of black and brown Americans, including assaults on voting rights as well as ending federal protection from racial and discrimination.
  10. Trump has defended at least some white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “very fine people.”
  11. Many of Trump’s closest advisers, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton, appear openly sympathetic to white supremacy, whatever language they may use to conceal that.
  12. In 2017, the Trump administration removed any specific reference to the suffering of the Jewish people from the official statement in support of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
  13. Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, who was mentored by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, attacked CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta as too “cosmopolitan.” This is a common anti-Semitic slur used by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. Miller has also said that Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants does not reflect the country’s true values. This argument is often made by those who believe the U.S. should remain a predominantly white country.

While the intention behind the DHS press release is unclear, this is not: Donald Trump’s White House and administration is a nest of white racists and other right-wing revanchists.

There have long been rumors that several previous presidents were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Woodrow Wilson supposedly hosted the Klan at the White House and some believed he was an active member. This is most likely untrue: Yes, Wilson was viciously racist, considered the Klan to be American heroes and hosted a viewing of D.W. Griffith’s profoundly racist movie “Birth of a Nation” at the White House. Wilson even ordered black federal employees to be confined in cage-like enclosures while they worked. But there is no evidence he was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Warren G. Harding has also been accused of being a Klan member, but this too has been also debunked by historians. Harding actually spoke out against the lynchings of black Americans. It’s worth noting that Harding was a Republican, in the era when that party at least paid lip service to equal citizenship rights for black people; Wilson was a Democrat, in the era when that party depended on white voters in the Jim Crow South.

Donald Trump is most likely not a member of the Klan (although the same cannot clearly be said of his father). But by virtue of his words, deeds and policies, Trump is an obvious and willful racist.

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Whatever historians, archivists and other researchers may one day determine about the Department of Homeland Security’s mysterious “14 words” press release, we don’t need conspiracy theories to demonstrate the Trump administration’s support for white supremacy. Facts are more than sufficient.


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