Prelude to an Atrocity

My specialty areas cover terrorism and insurgency, but also include mass violence and genocide as an auxiliary to those. (I’m a blast at parties, I swear.) And both the Trump administration’s conduct since 2017 and recent events have set off pretty much every alarm bell possible.

It is inherently difficult for most human beings to accept atrocities on their face or commit murder against someone who isn’t an actual threat to them. Breaking down that barrier requires a considerable amount of effort, exercised most effectively through both large social channels and ostensibly legitimate institutions. And it almost universally involves targeting a hated, disempowered, or ostracized ethnic group that doesn’t have the means to push back.

As a foundation, the demonized ethnic group is cast simultaneously as both a growing menace and inherently subhuman through ongoing propaganda. The Trump administration has been pursuing this with such commitment it’s almost boilerplate. The Trump White House has attempted to insinuate that asylum seekers from Latin America are all MS-13 in waiting, including releasing a statement on the official White House website hammering away at the mounting threat of MS-13 and referring to them repeatedly as “animals”. Trump has tweeted out that Latin American migrants “infest” this country. And what is one supposed to do with an “infestation”? You exterminate it.

This process doesn’t occur overnight, by any means. What might draw outrage were it to happen abruptly instead occurs as more of a slow-burn process. Lesser cruelties are cast as either necessary or appropriate, which ingrains a tolerance for an escalation in brutality. Note the response from Trump supporters and right-wing media to the outrage at separating children from their parents - these migrants had it coming, it’s an effective deterrent against a parasitic or menacing population, and it’s their fault for coming here in the first place. It fosters acceptance, even approval, for subsequent acts of murder.

Anyone might be tempted to say something to the effect of, “That all sounds melodramatic. How would that actually happen in the U.S.?”. The answer is unfortunately quite simple. ICE begins shipping asylum seekers from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador to improvised detention camps in the desert. They’re kept indefinitely under horrible conditions, and a combination of heatstroke, exposure, and deliberate neglect kills the bulk of detainees. The murder takes on an almost passive nature that doesn’t require camp facilitators to pull a trigger, and the bodies are dumped in a mass grave somewhere in the Mojave. If you don’t think there’s a smaller-scale precedent for this sort of thing, feel free to read up about Joe Arpaio’s “tent cities”.

Journalists and activists who visit the sites in an attempt to investigate or intervene are unlawfully detained and subject to draconian sentences. Cover is maintained through a combination of rigorous security and a chain of complicity that extends up the entire ICE command structure. As a result, the full extent of the atrocities are not revealed until years later. And when they are, the need to collectively forget the horrors and “move on” is so powerful that no one in the Trump administration or ICE is brought to trial. It’s all shoved down the memory hole as some inexplicable anomaly in which “mistakes were made” and no one was singularly responsible.

If there is not harsh and immediate intercession, things could well escalate into some form of the above. Everything from a willing and active institutional/law enforcement structure, to direct orders from the executive branch, to an unceasing torrent of dehumanizing propaganda from the president himself is fully in place.