Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday defended her comparison of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies to the Nazis’ Final Solution — claiming “expert analysis” backs her up.
However, hours later, the main expert whom Ocasio-Cortez cited came forward with a much less partisan and moralistic take. In a series of tweets, journalist Andrea Pitzer, who wrote a 2017 book about concentration camps called “One Long Night,” explained that she actually sees Trump’s migrant shelters as part of a century-long deterioration of the U.S. immigration system.
Right now, a system that was already deeply flawed is degrading quickly. In my current writing about border detention, I'm trying to give people a sense of where a century of bad policies have gotten us to, and the worse places they could lead us.
— Andrea Pitzer (@andreapitzer) June 18, 2019
Trump, in his way, has repeatedly made a similar point.
President Trump: "President Obama separated the children. Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate, they were built by President Obama's administration. Not by Trump. President Obama had child separation…I'm the one that stopped it." pic.twitter.com/rqmDIPZAmt
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 9, 2019
The president’s qualms, though, have not stopped him from taking a hardline approach. Hours before Ocasio-Cortez made the Nazi comparison, Trump tweeted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will next week “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”
The Health and Human Services Department announced Wednesday that it would transfer some detained immigrant children to Fort Sill, a U.S. Army base in Oklahoma once used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II. The move came amid a shortage of federal shelters to house an overflow of people crossing the border.
In 2014, the Obama administration also used the base to detain immigrants.
“Never again is now”
She told her 3.6 million Instagram followers: “The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps.”
“This is a crisis if America will remain America in its actual principles and values or if we are losing to an authoritarian and fascist presidency,” she continued. “I don’t use those words lightly. I don’t use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist.”
Although she did not specifically cite the Nazis, Ocasio-Cortez also invoked the phrase “Never Again,” a well-known slogan of commitment to prevent another Holocaust.
The Twitter response was swift and predictably divided.
Liberals generally defended Ocasio-Cortez. Feminist Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explained that concentration camps are not the same as death camps, adding “Never again is now.”
Ok, Internet. Time to learn the difference between concentration camps and death (“extermination”) camps.
Germany started with concentration camps in 1933.
Death camps started in 1941.
Never again is now. https://t.co/W3rbM5asVc
— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@TheRaDR) June 14, 2019
Meanwhile, many conservatives condemned Ocasio-Cortez’s politicization of the Holocaust.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, tweeted at her fellow congresswoman: “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”
Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this. https://t.co/NX5KPPb2Hl
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) June 18, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez retweeted Ruttenberg’s primer approvingly, and fired back at Cheney.
“What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?” she asked. “How would you dress up DHS’s mass separation of thousands children at the border from their parents?”
Hey Rep. Cheney, since you’re so eager to “educate me,” I’m curious:
What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?
How would you dress up DHS’s mass separation of thousands children at the border from their parents? https://t.co/OOfrrfa1Ew
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 18, 2019
Addressing the “shrieking Republicans,” Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted an Esquire magazine article in which Pitzer said that Trump’s migrant shelters belong in the same category as the camps where Nazis kept Jews before transporting them to death camps to be gassed to death.
And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps.
Concentration camps are considered by experts as “the mass detention of civilians without trial.”
And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 18, 2019
“We have what I would call a concentration camp system, and the definition of that in my book is, mass detention of civilians without trial,” Pitzer said.
The journalist explained that concentration camps are not unique to Nazi Germany. They were also used in France, South Africa, Cuba, the Soviet Union and — with Japanese internment — the United States.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her concentration camps expert
However, Pitzer’s interview doesn’t prove what Ocasio-Cortez seems to thinks it does.
That’s because Ocasio-Cortez didn’t just call U.S. migrant shelters “concentration camps” in the academic sense. She went much further. By calling his presidency “authoritarian” and “fascist” and pledging “Never Again,” she suggested Trump is behaving like Adolf Hitler.
It was these claims, more than her choice of terminology, that many found so offensive.
She literally said "Never again" in the same clip. https://t.co/phprZZ8DZt
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) June 18, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez’s amateur historiography also left out much more recent, and clearly relevant events.
As noted by both Pitzer and the author of the Esquire article, politics editor Jack Holmes, the U.S. immigrant detention system was in crisis long before Trump. Holmes noted on Twitter Tuesday that the current system was established by President Bill Clinton’s administration and expanded under President Barack Obama.
“Of course, the Obama administration temporarily housed migrants at military bases, including Fort Sill, for four months in 2014, built many of the newer facilities to house migrants, and pioneered some of the tactics the Trump administration is now using to try to manage the situation at the border,” Holmes said.
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists and white nationalists – oh my!
Unlike Pitzer, however, Ocasio-Cortez has shown little compunction about dragging the memory of the Holocaust into the political fray.
In an April tweet, Ocasio-Cortez responded to Trump’s criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar by quoting a famous poem, “First They Came,” in which German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller decried the cowardice of German intellectuals for enabling the he atrocities of the Third Reich. She demanded that every lawmaker defend the Minnesota Democrat lest they be the next victims of Trump’s supposedly Nazi-like agenda.
Last November, Ocasio-Cortez likened the surge of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border to Jewish refugees whom the United States turned away before World War II.
In both cases, conservative Jews protested her comments.
Liberal fears that Trump would be a Hitler-like dictator have receded from mainstream discourse in the years since his 2016 election. But accusations – also repeatedly propounded by Ocasio-Cortez – that Trump has advanced a white supremacist agenda and given succor to right-wing extremists have persisted.