Back in February, I wrote a piece entitled “When the President Laughs at Genocide” which provided historical context for the “scattergun-style of bigotry” that President Trump unleashed against presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren. That piece concluded with the statement that Americans needed to hold themselves to a far higher standard than our head of state.
Unfortunately, the American far-right – containing the most racist, xenophobic, nativist, and “patriotic” faction of Trump’s hardened base – has taken the exact opposite approach. Not only do they want a President who will joke about the Wounded Knee Massacre or use Pocahontas as a racial slur against a white political opponent; they demand one who will laugh, basking in applause, when one of their own call openly for the murders of another outgroup.
On May 8th, in Panama City Beach, Florida, Trump held another one of his campaign rallies and all but lamented not being able to violently attack immigrants seeking refuge in this country. He then asked his supporters, “But how do you stop these people?” To which an anonymous audience member replied. “Shoot them!” This caused the President to pause, smile, and shake his head while his rally-goers laughed. He finally replied: “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”
Roaring applause and cheering followed. There was no repulsion at the idea or any attempt to distance himself from a literal call to mass murder. That despicable idea was allowed to linger in the air at a political event for the sitting President of the United States as an applause line. What should have been expected from the President who already laughed at genocide?
The chilling exchange at the rally came only days after investigative journalist Ken Klippenstein broke the story of alarming statements made by a border vigilante named Armando Gonzalez. A former militia compatriot named Steven Brant relayed these comments to the Sunland Park Police Department in New Mexico, in order to inform law enforcement of what Brant considered “terroristic threats.”
The militia in question, the United Constitutional Patriots, claimed to have been working in a support role for Customs and Border Protection. The UCP’s leader had just been arrested on weapons charges after evidence emerged that members of the group were impersonating agents and detaining migrants unlawfully. On the night of April 24th, the militia’s members spotted people crossing the border, which prompted an excited Gonzalez to hand Brant a handgun before running to retrieve an AR-15 for himself. However, Gonzalez was told to put the weapons away since they were only out there to observe and report. This upset Gonzalez who allegedly responded: “Why are we just apprehending them?” as well as “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber”.
The United States is operating internment camps for immigrants, predominantly children, that are riddled with abuse and inflicting a rising death toll. Not only are we operating these facilities of mass trauma but an easily swayed, erratic President (who has already joked about shooting someone, supported extrajudicial familial murder, praised a mass murderer, and just pardoned a war criminal) might be reading maddened scribbles on the wall that his supporters might want more bodies.
To be clear, I do not see Donald Trump signing an executive order mobilizing federal troops as a killing squad to the border. At worst, I see him extending his current behavior slightly further. Trump has displayed an indifference for all manner of violence inflicted by his supporters against numerous minority groups. It is not outside the realm of possibility that he could continue to feign ignorance if mass violence begins to be inflicted, in his name, along the southern borders by other vigilantes.
The hateful, genocidal intent that flows through the veins and poisons the minds of these members of the far-right is no different than the intent that intoxicated innumerable perpetrators before them throughout this country’s history. However, the difference is that it has been a long time since groups of individuals with these intentions believed they had a possible ally within the White House.
Even so, it isn’t just Trump. If a Democrat wins the upcoming election, the border militia vigilantes, the man in the Panama City Beach crowd, and others of their ilk who want to line immigrants up to be shot will still be out there. We need to remember that and work to ensure that their dreams of genocide can never come to pass.
Michael E. Carter is an independent scholar who graduated with his MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Kean University. He focuses on colonial genocide in the Western Hemisphere primarily on the destruction of the Native Americans. You can follow him on Twitter at @DeckofCarter.