Godwin be damned, it is certainly worth pointing out that Donald Trump’s announced VOICE program, which will track and publish crimes committed by immigrants, legal or otherwise, has a literal antecedent in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, which did the same thing for crimes committed by Jews.
Trump celebrated the creation of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE. It will, among other things, put out a regular report on the illicit doings of the undocumented. “I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” he said. “We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.” (It will be paid for by money spent, in the Obama years, on advocating for undocumented immigrants.)
The program is controversial (when Trump referenced it Tuesday, Democrats groaned). There’s no evidence that immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans, and critics worry the reports will skew public opinion unfairly. “Let’s be clear about what Donald Trump is doing,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Facebook. “He is stirring up fear and hatred against immigrants and trying to divide our nation.”
There’s a reason Trump’s opponents are so worried. This strategy — one designed to single out a particular group of people, suggesting that there’s something particularly sinister about how they behave — was employed to great effect by Adolf Hitler and his allies. In the 1930s, the Nazis used a similar tactic to stir up anger and hatred toward Jews. Professor Richard Weikart of California State University explained that Nazi leaders used different kinds of communication tools to sell the message that “Jews are criminal by disposition,” as a 1943 Nazi directive to the German press put it. “The Jews are not a nation like other nations but bearers of hereditary criminality,” the order said. Germany, in other words, was out of control, and only Nazi anti-Semitic policies could “restore order.”
To spread these ideas, there were books (like the pamphlet pictured above) and films that portrayed Jews as subhuman. “The Eternal Jew,” released in 1940, depicted Jews as wandering cultural parasites, consumed by sex and money. Newspapers such as Der Stürmer printed anti-Semitic cartoons regularly. “By the late 1930s, the increasingly fanatical tone of Nazi propaganda reflected the growing radicalization of the regime’s anti-Semitic policies,” the BBC explained. “The Jewish stereotypes shown in such propaganda served to reinforce anxieties about modern developments in political and economic life, without bothering to question the reality of the Jewish role in German society.”
We’ve seen the result of such demonization before and it’s not pretty. We’ve seen it with other groups of immigrants in our own country, which led to vile, authoritarian laws allowing violence against them and to mass discrimination and persecution. Trump is tapping in to a very dangerous vein of bigotry and xenophobia that has caused widespread abuses of human rights, even leaving out the Nazi example.