The shadow falls across the US

Children held in a US border camp

On 17 July the US House of Representatives passed a resolution saying that President Trump’s tweets attacking four ethnic minority congresswomen in the previous week were racist. Asked if he was concerned that some people saw his tweets as racist, Trump replied, ‘It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.’ US capitalist society was founded on the elimination of North America’s indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans. Racism is embedded in the roots of US society and Trump intends to tap into that racism to win the 2020 presidential election. As he does, so the shadow of fascism is cast across the US. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

The US has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per capita incarceration rate. According to the US Bureau of Justice in 2016, black people constituted 12% of the US population but 33% of prison inmates; Hispanic people were 16% of the population and 23% of inmates; white people formed 64% of the population and 30% of prisoners. Alongside national incarceration rates which indicate the scale of oppression being meted out to the US working class and to black people in particular, the growth of camps for holding immigrant detainees, and the conditions in them, demonstrates the escalating war on the oppressed. The camps have rightly been described as concentration camps. They hold tens of thousands of people who have fled the intolerable conditions imposed on Central America by imperialism.

Officers and staff employed by the US state are being trained to inflict cruelty on behalf of the ruling class and the US population is being conditioned to accept this. The limits to what people will tolerate as being done in their name are being tested. Language, rules and regulations are being refined to put in place the organisational and technical infrastructure necessary to impose mass and brutal oppression. This is what capitalism in crisis produces and fascism is growing in its midst.  

In June 2019, Trump set out his stall for the 2020 presidential campaign: ‘Immigration really is the defining issue of 2020. When it comes to immigration, Democrats no longer represent American citizens…The Democratic Party is really now a socialist party.’ Before his 2016 election victory Trump claimed that the then President Obama was not born in the US; that many Mexicans were rapists; he demonised foreigners and ethnic minorities and accused his rival, Hillary Clinton, of being treacherous. His election rallies resounded to chants of ‘Build that wall’ and ‘Lock her up’. In August 2017, when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and murdered protester Heather Heyer, Trump refused to condemn them and said there were ‘very fine people on both sides’. As far as Trump and his backers in the US ruling class are concerned, promoting racism and xenophobia are a winning formula.

In keeping with his fascistic tendencies, President Trump turned the 4 July Independence Day celebration in Washington into a ‘Salute to America’ election rally, with a display of military might, including fighter jets overhead and marching bands flanked by tanks parading by. Donning the mantle of a Roman emperor, presumably Nero, known for his tyranny and extravagance, Trump called General Joseph Dunford, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the podium to join him, where he announced, ‘Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.’

‘The Squad’

Trump has particularly targeted four ethnic minority Democratic Party congresswomen elected in the November 2018 midterm elections. In June 2019 they were the only House of Representatives Democrats to vote against an emergency measure to release an additional $4.6bn in extra funds for US-Mexican border controls. Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said ‘throwing more money at the very organisations committing human rights abuses…is not the solution’. The four women, dubbed ‘the Squad’, are Ilhan Omar, of Somali origin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Puerto Rican origin, Rashida Tlaib, from a Palestinian family, and Ayanna Pressley, an African American woman. Three of them were born in the US and the fourth arrived there as a child. The four have criticised the detention centres, anti-immigrant raids and deportations. Ocasio-Cortez denounced the detention centres as concentration camps. In an ABC News interview on 7 July Tlaib said, ‘We know what it feels like to be dehumanised. We know what it feels like to be brown and black in this country. And I’ll tell you right now, we’re not going to stand by and sit idly by and allow brown and dark-skinned children to be ripped away from their parents to be dehumanised.’

Trump quoted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who said the four were ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘anti-American’ and that ‘AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists’.

President Trump unleashed his fury at such defiance from ethnic minority women: those who criticise the government ‘are welcome to leave. If they don’t love America, tell ‘em to leave it’. Trump accused Ilhan Omar of declaring her love for Al Qaeda. He condemned ‘radical Left Congresswomen’ who ‘speak so badly of our country’ and ‘hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion’. Trump quoted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who said the four were ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘anti-American’ and that ‘AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists’. On 15 July Trump tweeted ‘We will never be a socialist or communist country. If you are not happy here, you can leave.’ At his 17 July rally in Greenville, North Carolina the crowd of supporters chanted ‘Send her back! Send her back!’ against Ilhan Omar. This is a real threat.  

While in the House of Representatives all the Democrats and four Republicans voted to condemn Trump’s tweets as racist, Trump was able to thank those Democrats who voted against his impeachment and who voted for the record defence budget of $733bn for 2020. The leadership of the Democratic Party, allied to Wall Street, has frequently clashed with ‘the Squad’. The four should be defended against racist attacks.

The camps

The abuse of migrants trying to reach the US and being detained in camps is a warning of what the US state can descend to. We have seen that before at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. At the US border camps:

US authorities stated that in May 2019 alone over 144,000 migrants, mainly from Honduras and Guatemala, were interned. Children accounted for almost 40% of these people.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General’s report said that of 8,000 detainees across five Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, 2,669 were children.

At two facilities the DHS found that approximately 750 and 900 detainees respectively were being held in camps designed to hold a maximum of 125 people. A cell with a maximum capacity of 12 held 76 detainees, another with a capacity of 35 held 155. People are forced to stand.

  • Detained children are suffering from scabies, shingles, respiratory diseases, dehydration, traumatic brain injuries and infections. They are suffering the trauma of being torn from their parents, the youngest being just four months old.
  • In June, the DHS argued in court that it is not required to provide small children with soap, toothbrushes or bedding. Children are sleeping on concrete floors. They have been refused permission to go outside and play football.
  • There are 187 documented cases of detainees being held in solitary confinement for over six months. Women are held in cramped cells without access to showers or running water for weeks on end.
  • Before December 2018 no child had died under CBP care. Between December 2018 and 5 July 2019 six children died in government custody.

After visiting a CBP facility Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, ‘I see why CBP officers were being so physically and sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells with no water and had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on GOOD behaviour in front of members of Congress.’ President Trump tweeted, ‘If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centres, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!’ He added, ‘They have water, they have air conditioning, they have things they’ve never seen.’ He described ‘gang members’ as ‘savage beasts… I don’t think they are human beings’. When images of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande were sent around the world President Trump offered: ‘If they thought it was hard to get in, they wouldn’t be coming up…So many lives would be saved.’ Commenting on criticism of the camps, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson said the agency is ‘firmly committed to the safety and welfare of those in its custody’. Responding to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on 16 July Trump said, ‘They’re not concentration camps, they’re really well run.’

ICE chicago protest 2019

Protesters in Chicago demand the abolition of ICE, July 2019

The US has extended its war against the oppressed fleeing Central America into Mexico. The US government said it would impose tariffs on all goods from Mexico unless immigration was halted. In the first six months that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been in office, deportations from Mexico increased by 245% to 82,132. A Mexican National Guard was established on 30 June, and by the end of 2019 82,000 National Guardsmen will patrol Mexico’s southern and northern borders.

Raids in US cities

Under President Obama the US deported about three million people, the largest number in US history. ICE deportations reached 250,000 in 2018. However, the acting head of Homeland Security said they were aiming to deport a million people in early July 2019. Raids on suspected illegal immigrants in US cities were scheduled to start on 23 June, but Trump said they would be delayed until after 4 July. From 23 July US immigration officers have been empowered to deport anyone who has been in the US unlawfully for less than two years without them being allowed to appear before a judge. ICE has ordered the arrest not only of targeted individuals, but any undocumented person. Cities targeted for raids include Baltimore, Miami, Denver, Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many immigrants have gone into hiding and people are carrying their passports to avoid being taken away to a network of camps in isolated parts of the country. This is reminiscent of occupied Europe under the Nazis.

This is a warning

Emblematic of the fact that it is not just migrants who have much to fear from the tide of oppression sweeping imperialist countries is the criminalisation of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, imprisoned by the US and Britain respectively for revealing the brutality and lawlessness of state forces around the world. Manning has been ordered to pay fines of $1,000 a day for refusing to testify against Assange. She has been locked up in the US since 8 March 2019 for not giving evidence, having already spent seven years in gaol for leaking 750,000 military documents exposing war crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The journalist John Pilger condemned the lack of media coverage of Manning and Assange: ‘Mark these disgraces as a warning of the return of fascism.’

It is an obscenity that Trump’s tax cuts for the rich in the US have created a boom in the second-hand market for private jets. Tax payers can immediately deduct 100% of the cost of new and second-hand jets bought between 2017 and 2027; the Dassault Falcon 7X is up in price to an average $25m. Trump and his government hail the longest stretch of US economic growth since 1854. It is growth built on giveaways to corporations and shareowners; investment is not growing but the gap between government receipts and spending is. Before the November 2020 presidential election the boom will likely turn to bust.

Heather Heyer’s last Facebook posting before her murder read, ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention’. There have been demonstrations in 700 towns and cities across the US with demands to ‘Close the camps’ and for immigrant families to be reunited. Communities have organised to warn of impending raids. Resistance will rise and the other side of US history will return: the fight against colonialism and bigotry and for emancipation.

Acknowledgement is given to the World Socialist Web Site for information on the camps.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 271, June/July 2019


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