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Ralph Reiland: Kids in cages: A short step from despotism

| Monday, July 23, 2018, 8:51 a.m.

Speaking in the Cabinet Room of the White House on May 16 during a roundtable on immigration policy in California, federal catch-and-release practices, MS-13 gang members and so-called sanctuary cities (a city, county or state that restricts its collaboration with federal immigration enforcement and prosecution agents in order to protect noncriminal, low-priority immigrants from deportation, while continuing to turn over immigrants who have committed serious crimes to federal immigration agents), President Trump drew widespread criticism from immigration activists, civil rights advocates, religious leaders, lawmakers and concerned citizens for his following summation.

“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 explained. “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.”

So who expressed, with candor, the following warning about the path to cages and re-education camps once you dehumanize and demonize a category of people, a warning about state-enforced bigotry and authoritarianism: “Once you categorize people as animals it’s only a short step until you start putting them or their children in cages”?

Abe Lincoln? No, it was a friend of mine, a financial adviser and former university professor in finance who lost family members to prejudice, political polarity and Russian genocide in mass killings by social class.

Similar worries about group repression followed Trump’s portrayal of certain types of immigrants entering the United States as “infestations,” evoking the imagery of destructive insect invaders that are generally best dealt with by way of extermination.

Order No. 00447, a mass punitive operation of murder and imprisonment in the USSR, approved by the Politburo, the executive committee of the Bolshevik party, the highest government authority in the USSR, was launched by a letter from Joseph Stalin on July 30, 1937.

The title of the order, “On the repression of former kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet elements,” provided the unofficial name to the campaign – the “kulak operation.” The “former kulaks,” still poor but guilty of simply being relatively better off than poorer peasants in the past, were robbed of their property and other assets by the state and deported to other regions for quarantine between 1929 and 1933.

The “other anti-Soviet elements” targeted by the 00447 order included those who were, prior to the October Revolution, clergy and other religious figures, policemen, officialdom members, military officers, and members of non-Bolshevik parties and organizations, plus those who had fought against Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, in addition to Zionists and members of Ukrainian groups and participants in Jewish organizations.

Speedy investigations, defective trial procedures, political polarization, official corruption, class hatreds and the loosely interpreted term “anti-Soviet elements” meant that practically anyone could be targeted, arrested, judged guilty and sentenced to death by shooting or confined to jails, indoctrination facilities, slave labor sites, exile in Siberia or concentration camps.

As many as 25 million “enemies” of the state or approved ideology were killed in the former Soviet Union.

Stated Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

Ralph Reiland is associate professor emeritus of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur. His email is rrreiland@aol.com .

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