Speaking to a group of California sheriffs last week about immigration, President Trump appeared to put his foot in his mouth by referring to people facing deportation as “animals.” But rather than apologize in the face of outrage from critics who slammed Trump for dehumanizing immigrants, the administration has doubled down.
On Monday, the White House sent out a press release with the eye-popping subject line: “What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13.” The release detailed various crimes committed by alleged MS-13 gang members, and used the word “animals” nine times to describe members of the group. “President Trump’s entire Administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice,” the message concluded.
For those who've been following Trump’s rhetoric around MS-13, the comments came as no surprise. The president and members of his administration have turned the predominantly Central American gang into a boogeyman to justify immigration policies, and Trump himself has on multiple occasions appeared to revel in describing the grisly details of murders committed by alleged MS-13 members. He often refers to them as “animals.”
“They don’t like shooting people because it's too quick, it's too fast,” Trump said last July during a speech to Long Island police officers. “I was reading — one of these animals was caught — in explaining, they like to knife them and cut them, and let them die slowly because that way it's more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more. These are animals.”
The argument from the White House is that Trump wasn’t referring to all immigrants as “animals” last week — just criminals and gang members. It’s true that Trump’s comment last week was preceded by a sheriff mentioning MS-13, but Trump also phrased his remark in a way that left the meaning open to interpretation.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later insisted that Trump was referring to MS-13 and defended his comment. “I don’t think the term the president used was strong enough,” Sanders said. Then she referenced a killing by alleged MS-13 members and added, “It took an animal to stab a man 100 times and decapitate him and cut his heart out.”
Trump is expected to return to Long Island on Wednesday to talk about immigration and MS-13. It’s a safe bet that the word “animals” will be used at least once in his speech.
Cover image via Getty