After President Trump set off a controversy May 16 by using the term “animals” to refer to undocumented immigrants – or the members of the murderous gang MS-13, depending on who you ask – his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended him by saying “the term animal doesn’t go far enough” to describe these “horrible, disgusting people.”
Now the White House has doubled down on the use of the derogatory term by issuing a press release that uses the word “animals” at least nine times in one page, beginning with the headline: “What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13.”
Throughout a listing of the horrid crimes the MS-13 gang members have committed, the White House refers to them as “MS-13’s animals.”
While no citizen would defend the horrid acts, murders and other crimes committed by violent gang MS-13, which operates in both the U.S. where it began and in El Salvador, where American authorities deported many gang members, the controversy is around the use of dehumanizing language to describe even these criminals and the president’s implicit association of these criminals with all Hispanic immigrants to the United States.
A read of the transcript from the public roundtable where the president first used the term shows a source of the controversy. While the President and his supporters insist Trump was only referring to members of the MS-13 gang as animals, in answering a question, that is not really clear from his remarks that day considering that the President speaks in garbled and incoherent sentences.
His comments came not in response to a question but after a comment by Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims who spoke about her frustration in rounding up illegal immigrants in California, which has a “sanctuary” law that limits what law enforcement can do.
The sheriff then also mentioned an incident with an MS-13 gang member, which set Trump off: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals.”
Trump’s used of the term immediately evoked memories of the Nazi regime in Germany which in the leadup to World War II and beyond called Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and others “animals” to dehumanize them, and thus set the stage for the German people to go along with the mass murder of those people.
From Bosnia to Rwanda, genocidal regimes have employed the use of dehumanizing language to break down the moral and ethical taboos that prevent the vast majority of us from killing one another.
Trump’s attacks on “immigrants” in general began when his career kicked off in 2016 with remarks about Mexicans coming across the border who were undesirable, so his use of the term animals stirred up that memory as well.
“In the eyes of Trump critics,” reported Vox, “the justification for ‘animals’ wasn’t obvious at all. Some believe that the president simply had an obligation to be more careful with his words, while others point to a long history of using a few criminals to smear entire groups of people – or simply claim that it’s inhumane to refer to any human being as an animal.”
Trump supporters say he was only talking about MS-13 but his critics put it in a broader context, of which today’s White House press release is just another example.
“They believe that Trump has shown a willingness to use racist language in the past,” adds Vox, “and has demonstrated he believes some people of color aren’t really human.”
Trump has frequently used the terms like “animals” and “criminals” to discuss all illegal immigrants as well as MS-13 members, and also various minorities, as a device to rally his voting base, and thus to justify his immigration bans, cutbacks in the number of people from Spanish speaking countries who can immigrate to the U.S. and other restrictive policies.
Increasingly his White House and those around him echo his racist rants and turn them into official policy.
America was long considered a country where diversity was valued, so using derogatory terms about various immigrant groups showed a lack of respect.
Now Trump is weaving genocidal language into our government’s official press releases.