You may think that connecting the actions of the Trump administration to Adolf Hitler’s secret police force is hyperbolic, but words still mean things and the Nazis were not the first to do the things they did. History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme, which is why former chief of staff for both the CIA and the Pentagon, Jeremy Bash, called Trump’s policy of announcing immigrant round-ups “Stalinist” and “Gestapo tactics.” While Trump’s version of a secret police carrying out his political agenda free from democratic accountability is not exactly like Hitler’s version, the tactical similarities do not end with these announced terror campaigns (nor does Trump’s authoritarianism bear similarity to Hitler alone—Bash’s Stalin comparison was also accurate).
Given how charged the debate around Nazis in America is, let’s just begin with the definition of “Gestapo,” courtesy of the Holocaust Encyclopedia:
The Gestapo (German secret state police) was a vital component both in Nazi repression and the Holocaust. It was a police force unlike others in that it did not answer to any judicial or legal oversight. Without fear of civilian repercussions, the Gestapo used ruthless methods to identify and arrest political opponents and others who refused to conform to the policies of the Nazi regime. The Gestapo had relatively few officers, and relied heavily on denunciations and cooperation from members of the public.
The Gestapo had a mandate to operate outside the law or judicial review to repress any legal activity considered unacceptable by the Party.
This is not a straight across comparison, as immigration was not an issue for 1930s Germany the way it is for 2019 America, and Hitler’s Gestapo was focused primarily on turning his domestic political opponents into enemies of the state. Trump’s immigration policies attempt to blur the line between citizen and non-citizen for citizens who do not look like him and his country club pals, and he attempts to assuage white supremacist fears via an ethnic cleansing campaign waged against black and brown citizens and non-citizens alike, as demonstrated by this horrifying report from the Dallas Morning News that everyone forgot about the moment Trump hit send on his latest racist tweet:
An 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen has been in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more than three weeks, his attorney says.
Now his family fears he may be deported.
“I presented then with his original birth certificate and other documents and they ignored them. So now I’ve faxed over all the documents to the ICE agent handling the case,” [his attorney] said. “He’s going on a full month of being wrongfully detained. He’s a U.S. citizen and he needs to be released now.”
Francisco Erwin Galicia said that conditions were so bad at the camp he was in that he nearly requested to self-deport from the United States. This is where we’re at, folks. Americans with proof of their citizenship getting locked in concentration camps with no recourse unless a journalist happens to shine a light on it.
Legal scholars and students of history agree that the United States is operating concentration camps on our southern border, and now we have confirmation that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have detained a U.S. citizen and sent him to a concentration camp, where they did not respond to the Dallas Morning News' request for comment after uncovering this fact, then lied to the House Judiciary Committee when called to testify about it. This is not even the first time that ICE has violated the constitutional rights of an American citizen, as last year they tried to deport DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez by falsely claiming he was “gang-affiliated.” Also last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Director attempted to strip some U.S. citizens of their citizenship.
We have our own version of a very young Gestapo, and Trump was ready to empower its enforcement branch to deport what he said were “millions” in an operation that actually targeted 2,100 people and wound up resulting in just 35 arrests. Just because Trump's brand of authoritarianism is imbued with his unique brand of incompetency doesn't mean that it's any less evil than any other ethnic cleansing campaign in world history. The list of verified ICE and CBP Gestapo-esque tactics is long.
We know from leaked documents that these raids run by ICE are built around arrest quotas—calling in to question whether deporting those who meet the legal standard for deportation is their true goal in these operations. In 2017, plainclothes ICE agents staked out a courthouse and refused to identify themselves (with one even lying and saying he was not an ICE agent). Last year, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents intimidated an ICE whistleblower by asking him to lie, and they interrupted an interview he was doing at his home with CBS.
Once separated from their children, ICE has told parents that they can reunite with their kids if they agree to be deported. The former ICE Director, who at the time was the acting head of the agency, went on Fox News and called for the arrest of politicians in so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Privacy advocates told The Intercept that “the level of secrecy surrounding ICE's procedures…is over the top.” ICE and GEO Group (a private company profiting off of providing the facilities for these concentration camps) have cut off some detainees from the outside world, and the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to ICE demanding they provide detainees internet access and allow them to find legal representation, because right now the ACLU says they are being “forced to fight their deportation cases from inside of a black hole.”
The Office of Refugee Settlement is putting children in “black sites”—areas that are completely unknown to anyone outside this small authoritarian circle. Government agents are are also putting these children in shelters with histories of abuse and neglect.
The Cruelty Is the Point has become a rallying cry for the dystopian truth of Trump's agenda to brutalize black and brown people, and it has now been confirmed as true by the perpetrators of said cruelty.
This institutional heartlessness is also exemplified by this heart-wrenching story that can only be described as a Nazi-like and quite literal Sophie’s Choice perpetrated by agents acting on behalf of you and me and the rest of the United States of America. Per NPR:
At a Border Patrol holding facility in El Paso, Texas, an agent told a Honduran family that one parent would be sent to Mexico while the other parent and their three children could stay in the United States, according to the family. The agent turned to the couple’s youngest daughter — 3-year-old Sofia, whom they call Sofi — and asked her to make a choice.
“The agent asked her who she wanted to go with, mom or dad,” her mother, Tania, told NPR through an interpreter. “And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.’ “
The Nazis did not invent concentration camps, nor ethnic cleansing. Secret police have existed as long as authoritarian governments have. It is not hyperbolic to compare CBP, ICE and any other of Trump’s lackeys to past agents that carried out authoritarian campaigns—nor is it out of line to call these camps concentrated with people what they are—and I say this as a Jew with relatives buried at Auschwitz.
While America has not risen to the evil of funneling its ethnic cleansing campaign through extermination camps like Auschwitz, it does have concentration camps—like the Nazis initially had with Dachau—where over 30,000 people died over 12 years due to forced labor as well as the harsh conditions in the camp. Extermination camps are not a prerequisite for state-sanctioned murder, and we know of at least seven children who have died in CBP custody. How bad do things need to get before we take this agenda for what it claims to be? (Read: “very fine people on both sides.”)
Those who take umbrage with my headline comparing Trump’s immigration network to the Gestapo will accurately point out that mass murder is a key feature of the Gestapo’s agenda not yet embraced by ICE and CBP, but if literal top-to-bottom Nazi policy is what it takes to finally rein in these fundamentally authoritarian institutions who have little oversight (by design under the ever-expanding umbrella of DHS), then our problems run much, much deeper than just a few rogue government organizations.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.