by Brendan Cooney
“Never Again Is Now” may be one of the most powerful slogans to emanate from the Resistance in recent weeks. It is sounded in rapidly escalating street protests across American cities in response to revelations about the Trump administration’s intensifying sadism against asylum seekers and other migrants. Scrawled across cardboard signs, screamed in the street, multiplying across social media, “Never Again Is Now” conveys the horror and urgency of a growing collective awareness that the worst nightmares of history are leaking into the present.
The slogan is associated with a loose coalition of Jewish groups called “Never Again Action.” The group makes an explicit parallel between conditions in Nazi Germany which preceded the Holocaust, and contemporary conditions in the US, in which thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants are being held in concentration camps. (“Never Again” has been the rallying cry of Jews and others protesting post-World War II genocides.)
“If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done if you had been alive in the 1940s, this is the moment of truth. This is time to put our bodies on the line because when we say never again, we mean never again for anyone.”
“Never Again Action” is one of many groups that have staged protests and civil disobedience in recent weeks, while the media cycle has been dominated by images and reports of overcrowded, unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the “detention centers” that the US government uses to punish migrants who come to the US to seek asylum, while they await processing of their claims.
On July 12, over 700 “Lights For Liberty” protests occurred across the US, demanding that Congress close all the concentration camps and that it immediately begin impeach proceedings against President Trump. Three days later, on “Amazon Prime Day,” protesters in several cities called on Amazon to stop selling surveillance technology to ICE (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency). Meanwhile, protests in front of detention centers and ICE offices have multiplied around the country.
Protest, July 1, Elizabeth, NJ. Source: Screengrab/Youtube/Aaron Judgement
It is likely that these protests will continue to grow in size and continue to escalate, as Trump doubles down on his camps. He may stop claiming that the poor conditions are only “fake news” in light of photographs of the camps, but he won’t concede they need to be changed. When he recently sent Vice President Pence to inspect a Texas camp, the cameras revealed hundreds of immigrants squeezed in a cell, hungry, hot, unable to lie down, and shouting to reporters how long they had been imprisoned—some for weeks and months.
It was only a year ago that massive protests broke out across the US in response to revelations about the Trump administration’s draconian family separation policy. After the Administration claimed it had backed away from that policy, there was a noticeable wane in nation-wide public protest around these issues, despite continued local campaigns against ICE and detention centers in many cities and towns. With new revelations about the continued separation of children from their families, and of the inhumane conditions of their detention, the movement against Trump’s proto-fascist, anti-immigrant policies is back in force.
Trump also just launched a campaign for ICE to apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants—millions of them. Although such round-ups go on daily, he announced it would begin in force last Sunday, sending terror across Latino communities throughout the country. Some immigrants’ children are refusing to go to school out of fear that their parents will be disappeared in their absence.
Truth and Post-Truth
While some apologists of the Trump Administration have attempted to paint a picture of an innocent system overwhelmed by unexpected numbers of immigrants, the truth is much darker and more sinister. These conditions are the deliberate result of a policy whose two-fold purpose is to (1) deter immigration from Mexico and Central America by treating legal asylum seekers as sadistically as possible, and (2) score political points amongst the proto-fascist elements of Trump’s base, who enjoy this sadistic spectacle.
Trump has done little to hide the fact that his policies on immigration are largely guided by an apocalyptical vision of white-nationalism, which views the changing racial demographics of the US as an existential threat to “white civilization.” The echoes of history are strong here. Hitler too hoped that cruel treatment of Jews in Germany would encourage “self-deportation.” And, like Hitler, Trump knows that his sadism is appealing to his base.
But students of 20th century fascism know that the dynamism that characterizes the fascist base, feeding on sadism and fantasies of redemptive violence, only maintains its energy by continually escalating its cruelty and its rhetoric. This is the sort of dangerously escalating dynamic that we now face in the US, one that qualitatively differentiates the mistreatment of migrants under Obama from what is now occurring under Trump. In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Trump ratcheted-up his white-nationalist rhetoric, whipping up fear about the now-infamous “caravan” and resulting in terrorist attacks against Jews and political opponents. Now, with the 2020 election in sight, he is escalating the situation again.
Consider the comments by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, a man who sold his soul to Trump in order to advance his career. Graham personally visited a concentration camp over the weekend and said: “I don’t care if they have to stay in these facilities for 400 days, we’re not going to let those men go that I saw…What I saw is a bunch of people who have been here before, broke the law before, and we’re not going to let them go….”
The rhetorical style of Graham’s comments are the new normal for Trumpian public statements in the post-truth era: First, lie to give yourself some sort of moral cover, i.e., maintain that all asylum seekers are law breakers and lump them together with migrants who have committed crimes. Secondly, showcase your sadism to show the Trumpist base that you really don’t care about the law in the first place.
These sorts of rhetorical strategies blend into the foggy tapestry of post-truth Trumpism, where Vice President Mike Pence can say that conditions in detention centers are unacceptable while Trump claims it is all fake news, where family separations continue even though the policy has been ended, etc.
Piercing the Fog
In the interest of piercing through the fog, the following points should be made clear:
The Trump Administration has continued to find pretexts for separating children from their families by using any and all loopholes to declare that a child’s guardian is not legal or safe for the child to be with. Border agents will use any past criminal record, no matter how old or minor (i.e. DUI, trespassing), as an excuse to tear children from the arms of parents. They are also refusing to release children into the custody of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., although many children come to the US unaccompanied with the express plan to live with a relative. They recently took away a newborn from a mother who gave birth while in US custody.
Most of the people in the concentration camps have come here to apply for asylum. Under US law, anyone in the world may come to this country and apply for asylum once within our borders. The recent increase in asylum seekers crossing the US border is known to be a product of poverty, climate-change and gang violence in Central America. The effect of climate change on Central American countries has been devastating, with drought, poverty and hunger a dire reality in many areas. This new climate-reality has coincided with increasingly violent and dangerous local political situations to create a perfect storm. Last year, for example, violence in El Salvador generated 246,000 new internally displaced persons, a figure only 6,000 shy of the same figure for war-torn Yemen. Many asylum seekers are fleeing to the US in response to direct threats against them by local gangs. While no statistics exist yet on the survival rate of those who have been deported back to their countries of origin, many anecdotal stories have made their way into the news cycle of deportees who are killed by gangs upon their return.
There is no reason for asylum seekers to be kept in detention facilities, period. It is not a crime to seek asylum. The US has a process for ascertaining whether an individual is a “credible threat” before releasing them into the country to await a hearing on their asylum case. The Trump administration has deliberately made it more difficult to move through the asylum process, pursing all sorts of deliberate strategies to slow down the process and create back-logs, culminating in the announcement on July 15 that any asylum seekers from Central America must first apply for asylum from one of the counties they pass through on their way north, before they may apply for asylum in the US. This clearly illegal policy would effectively cut off all asylum-related immigration from Central America. Nor can we any longer be sure that the Trump-stacked Supreme Court will find it illegal.
Lastly, despite what Trump may say on Twitter, conditions in these camps are disturbingly inhumane and entirely preventable. This is backed-up by an Inspector-General report on the situation in the Rio Grande Valley. The July 2 report confirms dangerous overcrowding, children being held in detention longer than is legally permissible, adults and children detained without access to showers, toothbrushes, clean water, adequate food, bedding, or changes of clothing. In many holding-cells, there is not room for people to lie down to sleep, and the lights are kept on 24-hours a day. When sued, Justice Department lawyers argued, in court that the government should not be required to provide children with toothbrushes or soap.
The sadism was on full display for anyone to see when the social media posts of Border Patrol agents who had been members of a private Facebook group, were leaked recently. Carla Provost herself, chief of the Border Patrol agency, was a member of the group. Members joked about the deaths of migrants, and fantasied about sexually assaulting female members of Congress who wanted to observe detention camps.
It is because of this escalating madness that people are starting to say, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done if you had been alive in the 1940s, this is the moment of truth.” We can only hope that more and more people, every day, will realize the gravity of the situation, and commit to active and daily resistance to the nightmare of Trumpism.