We’re back! Somehow. Our most recent episode has to do with the rise of American fascism and its particular application to the US Immigration system. Show notes below:
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the conditions of the camps at the United States border. At this point there are dozens of stories on the conditions at the border. A few include this New York Times piece, this NYT piece and this piece at Salon.
From the NYT:
Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.
The babies, children and adults being held in Trump’s concentration camps do not have proper access to clean water, toothpaste, soap and other hygiene products, adequate food, safe places to sleep or sufficient medical care. There have been repeated reports of detainees being forced to drink from toilets and kept in conditions so dangerous that Border Patrol officers armed themselves in preparation for an imminent uprising. In Trump’s concentration camps, children are covered in human waste and other filth because they have not been allowed to bathe.
Adam Serwer at the Atlantic condensed a number of the reports at the top of his piece on the issue:.
At a processing center in El Paso, Texas, 900 migrants were “being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people,” The New York Times reported. One observer described the facility to Texas Monthly as a “human dog pound.” The government’s own investigators have found detainees in facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement being fed expired food at detention facilities, “nooses in detainee cells,” “inadequate medical care,” and “unsafe and unhealthy conditions.” An early-July inspector-general report found “dangerous overcrowding” in some Border Patrol facilities and included pictures of people crowded together like human cargo. More than 50,000 people are being held in facilities run by ICE, and something close to 20,000 in facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, and more than 11,000 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
As Serwer writes, “attacking an opponent for hyperbole is easier than defending the torture of children.” He goes on to say, “This variety of tut-tutting is irresistible to many ostensibly objective journalists, who by convention are barred from expressing opinions on policy but are welcome to lecture on tone, and take nearly every opportunity to remind the rabble of their obligation to be polite to their rulers.”
At least seven children have died in these facilities in the past year, and there have been at least 4,500 complaints about abuse in these facilities starting from 2014, 1,300 or more of which are classified as “serious sex abuse.”
“A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday,” one of the girls said in an interview with attorneys.
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” said Holly Cooper, who co-directs University of California, Davis’ Immigration Law Clinic and represents detained yout
A Facebook group composed of roughly 9,500 current and former border patrol agents contains hundreds of posts of misogynistic and racist content, which you can view here and was first reported here. The border patrol itself consists of 20,000 members.
The meme that group member Thomas Hendricks shared of President Donald Trump forcing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to perform oral sex was gone — though ProPublica’s tipster managed to grab that one. Investigators would not, however, see that Carrizo Springs resident Hector Garcia Jr. had posted something similar, sharing a meme of the congresswoman performing oral sex through a detention center fence in a mock Porn Hub preview (“Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special”). Similarly, investigators would not find the post from user Jorge Nunez: a video of a Trump impersonator grabbing the crotch of a woman in a red, white, and blue bikini, in which Nunez wrote, “Grab her right in the pussy…MAGA!!”
Hendricks deleted his account soon after the ProPublica story broke. Garcia and Nunez did not respond to requests for comment.
Anybody trying to look further into “I’m 10-15” after reading the ProPublica article would never see the Washington Post article that a poster named Bobby Matthews shared about asylum officers raising concerns about the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Matthews wrote “Fucking liberal traitors” and “more lies from the tonks” — using Border Patrol slang for migrants, referring to the sound a flashlight makes when it connects with a migrant’s skull — to which Nelson Pou III, the Del Rio, Texas-based lead singer of the band Semper Acerbus, replied, “Fuck the whole country of Honduras.”
This piece by Ana Lind-Guzik does a good job going into detail about why it’s appropriate to call the border detention centers “concentration camps.” There’s a phenomenal history of the institution of concentration camps and the language surrounding them at the New York Review of Books, written by Andrea Pitzer, excerpted from her larger book One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. Pitzer has written a more succinct version of the piece with a more direct and pointed look at the issue at GQ.
People today tend to think of Nazi death camps as defining the term “concentration camp.” But before World War II, this phrase was used to describe the detention of civilians without trial based on group identity. During a rebellion in Cuba in 1896, the Spanish Empire swept rural peasants—mostly women and children—off the land. Declaring them a threat, Spanish forces held them behind barbed wire in fortified cities. Around 150,000 people died. Three years later, America opened its own concentration camps for women and children as part of an effort to suppress a revolt in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War.
Today’s U.S.-Mexico border camps are the heirs of these concentration camps. Putting people in similar conditions will unleash illness and death. The more people who are detained, the larger these crises will become.
By the time a country gets to the point that those in power and a majority of their supporters embrace policies that back up virulent rhetoric and accept detention as the central response to a political or humanitarian problem, it is very difficult to undo.
We know there’s a racial element to the entire debate, which goes into the discussion of the subjectivity and objectivity of law. This is the episode we recorded on that subject which was referenced in the episode. This is the citation on visa overstays versus border crossings. And of course, that gets exacerbated when the “legal” process becomes increasingly difficult. It was already an insanely difficult process. Here’s an effective, if invective-riddled (and fairly so) thread on why it’s so idiotic to compare immigration from a hundred years ago to the process of becoming a citizen today, and in particular on why using that argument to demean immigrants is particularly foul. Here’s a thread on the deliberate roadblocks that exist for legal immigration.
We mentioned lower crime rates among immigrants, something we mentioned before — in our very first episode.
As odd as it all sounds, there’s a phenomenal YouTube playlist that goes into the parallels and differences between American fascism and historical fascism that you can find here. I’d recommend it first before anything else, and it dives into a lot of the Robert Paxton and Umberto Eco stuff I mentioned in the episode, and honestly — I cribbed a good amount of it.
Umberto Eco defined Ur-Fascism in 1995, saying:
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
That ideology is not internally coherent or ideologically consistent but draws on a fixed emotional core.
“… a rigid discombobulation, a structured confusion. Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations.”
He explains in the history of fascism, that genuine frustration, especially from the middle class, can be the catalyst for fascist leaders to exploit and take power.
Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
Part of the process is to draw on the fear of difference.
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
And in that process, they inherently create or reify social identities that demarcate the boundaries of that difference. Those boundaries of difference are then associated with a threat or plot.
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside.
Those others are both strong and weak.
The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
Strong enough to cause a threat — that they might invade by crossing the border, wreak havoc in the form of murder and rape and acts of terror. Weak enough to justify national dominance — they are unproductive, lazy, unable to contribute to a functioning society (echoing his comments to tell the Justice Democrats to go back to where they came from), incapable of forming effective institutions. They come from rat-infested “shitholes,” etc. They weaken the national identity, but also come in force.
It is necessary for the state and for law to create boundaries between legal and illegal, war and peace, criminal and citizen, combatant and civilian and so on as part of the process of the state. The process of creating those boundaries also allows fascists to strategically blur some of the boundaries when advantageous. We’ve created legal gray zones where civil rights law doesn’t apply, where criminals are combatants, where asylum seekers are neither citizens nor foreigners and so on. These are the abstract Zones of Exception to the literal, physical zones of exception Ben was talking about in the episode, which you can read about here.
The immigrant/national boundary makes no sense of course. One of the unique components of the United States is that it’s a nation where political power rests in the sons and daughters of immigrants, and those people are crafting policy meant to exclude immigrants. But — only insofar as those immigrants are recognizable as threats. So, brown immigrants and when it’s convenient, black immigrants.
I mentioned the Iron Law of Institutions, which was summarized in this blog post here back in 2007.