- Andrea Pitzerjournalist and author who writes about lost and forgotten history. Her upcoming book is called One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. It looks at mass civilian detention without trial from 1896 to today.
The Trump administration has announced plans to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants living in so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials and law enforcement are refusing to comply with federal immigration authorities’ efforts to speed up deportations. The plans for the weekly list, to be published by the Department of Homeland Security, were included in Trump’s executive orders signed last week. We speak to Andrea Pitzer. Her upcoming book is called “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps.”
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what President Trump has said he’s going to do: keep a list of, quote, “immigrant crimes”?
ANDREA PITZER: Well, this weekly report that he has called for recalls a number of things from the past that we have seen before, which is this move to isolate and identify and then vilify a vulnerable minority community in order to move against it. When he—I just went back last night and reread his speech from when he declared his candidacy, and the Mexican rapist comment was in from the beginning, and so this has been a theme throughout. And we see back in Nazi Germany there was a paper called—a Nazi paper called Der Stürmer, and they had a department called “Letter Box,” and readers were invited to send in stories of supposed Jewish crimes. And Der Stürmer would publish them, and they would include some pretty horrific graphic illustrations of these crimes, as well. And there was even a sort of a lite version of it, if you will, racism lite, in which the Neues Volk, which was more like a Look or a Life magazine, which normally highlighted beautiful Aryan families and their beautiful homes, would run a feature like “The Criminal Jew,” and they would show photos of “Jewish-looking,” as they called it, people who represented different kinds of crimes that one ought to watch out for from Jews.
So this preoccupation with focusing in on one subset of the population’s crimes and then depicting that as somehow depraved and abnormal from the main population is something we’ve seen quite a bit in the past, even in the U.S. Before Japanese-American internment, you had newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle running about the unassimilability of the Japanese immigrants and also the crime tendencies and depravities they had, which were distinguished from the main American population.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, this flies in the face of all studies that have shown that the crime rate among immigrant populations in the United States is actually lower than it is among ordinary American citizens, but yet this is attempting to take isolated incidents or particular crimes and sort of raise them to the level of a general trend, isn’t it?
ANDREA PITZER: It is. And I think it’s part of a disturbing narrative in which you strip out the broader context and the specificity of actions like this, and you try to weave them into this preset narrative of good and evil somehow, that really ends up being simple and dishonest and very counterproductive for the society as a whole. But yes, in general, these groups would want to keep a lower profile. They would want to stay off law enforcement’s radar. And so, this is one of the reasons that’s been suspected that it’s actually a lower crime rate. But if you get a few dramatic images—and don’t forget now, this won’t be coming out—you know, Breitbart has had this “black crimes” tag that they’ve used to try to do a similar thing in the past. And now we have Bannon in the White House. And it’s sort of a scaling-up and doing this with a different minority group, and you’ll have these, what will no doubt be, very dramatic narratives that will come forward that will eclipse the larger picture. And they’re going to have the imprimatur of a government report, which I think is another disturbing aspect.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Andrea Pitzer, about the White House considering a plan to make visitors reveal cellphone, internet data. Describe the role mass surveillance plays in authoritarian societies.
ANDREA PITZER: Well, over time, we’ve seen that it’s very hard to have an authoritarian or a totalitarian society, a state that runs, without a secret police. And you can’t—what you need the secret police for is to gather information secretly. The surveillance techniques and abilities that we have today are really unparalleled in history. And while we can’t yet be sure what the Trump administration’s motives are, what they have at their disposal is far greater than what was had in Soviet Russia, in Nazi Germany. I’m thinking in particular of Himmler complaining that he had trouble keeping track of all the people he needed to, because he needed so many agents. But when you have the kind of technology that we do, you don’t need as many people, if you have the right tools to use. And so, the ability to gather that kind of information and then potentially use it, domestically or on foreigners who happen to be here, I think is something that’s worth paying attention to and to be concerned about.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Andrea Pitzer, journalist and author who writes about lost and forgotten history. Her upcoming book, One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.