Behind AOC-Cheney Debate is Story That Used Inflammatory Language To Attack Trump

June 25, 2019

3 min read

So, are they concentration camps or not?

That was the debate this week after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted an Esquire story that dealt with the question of whether the facilities used by the Department of Homeland Security to keep illegal immigrants who make asylum claims while they wait for their cases to be heard can be referred to with the same name used for the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.

It exploded when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, responded: “Please @AOC [Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter handle] 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.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s defense backfired. She tweeted in response the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of concentration camp as “a place where large numbers of people {such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under an armed guard – used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners.”

Of course, the people being detained at the US-Mexico border are not being held because of their race, religion, politics or participation in a war. They are being held because they attempted to cross into the US illegally, then, when caught, made an asylum claim which meant they had to be held rather than simply released back into Mexico.

The experts Ocasio-Cortez cited were featured in the story she tweeted at the bottom of her message, which came from Esquire magazine and was entitled “An Expert on Concentration Camps Says That’s Exactly What the U.S. Is Running at the Border” – subhead: “’Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz’” – by Jack Holmes.

Among the “experts” is Andrea Pitzer, who has written one book about the subject – “One Long Night? A Global History of Concentration Camps,” but whose training is in journalism and who has no more professional expertise in concentration camps than Holmes does. Her only other book title is “The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov.”

Pitzer has made something of a cottage industry out of writing essays assailing Trump for establishing “concentration camps” at the border, even though such facilities date back to the Clinton administration and were expanded under President Obama.

Another expert relied upon is Waitman Wade Beorn, who studies the Holocaust and other genocides at the University of Virginia. Beorn says that “what’s required is a little bit of demystification of it,” referring to use of the term. “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz. Concentration camps in general have always been designed – at the most basic level – to separate one group of people from another.”

He does not mention the only group being separated at the border is those who attempted to break US law by entering the country without proper documentation.

Holmes concedes in his piece that Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush all handled the same challenges in roughly the same way, but he says the system has been “brought into extreme and perilous new territory by Donald Trump and his allies.”

He argues they are not illegal immigrants if they ask for asylum, even if they are caught sneaking across the border. “They are, in another formulation, refugees – civilian non-combatants who have not committed a crime, and who say they are fleeing violence and persecution.”

Reprinted with author’s permission from Accuracy in Media

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