WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump has ramped up the war on the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatruca, commonly known as MS-13, by characterizing the gang’s members as “animals.”
The controversy started on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, when President Trump -- speaking to a gathering of officials from California who oppose the state’s “sanctuary” law -- compared some illegal immigrants who cross the U.S. southern border with Mexico to “animals.”
The comment came during the White House roundtable with law enforcement and political leaders, when Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims expressed frustration that a California law signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown forbids informing U.S. Customs and Immigration officials of undocumented immigrants held in the state’s jails, even if law enforcement believes the undocumented immigrants are part of a gang.
“There could be an MS-13 member I know about – if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it,” Mims explained.
Trump responded: “We have people coming into the country – or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them – but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Trump insists MS-13 gang members properly described as “animals”
Immediately, the mainstream media jumped on the remark, claiming that Trump’s calling illegal immigrants “animals” proved he was a racist xenophobe who hated anyone who was not a natural-born American or a legally naturalized citizen.
Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post claiming it was never right to call other human beings “animals.”
“It’s not something we should even have to debate. No matter how debased the behavior of a given individual or group, no matter how much legitimate anger that genuinely evil actions might inspire, dehumanizing others always leads us down a dangerous path,” Dionne wrote, echoing the LaRaza protest banners of a decade ago that proclaimed “No Human Being Is Illegal.”
On Thursday, May 17, 2018, the White House clarified the comment. Press Secretary Sara Sanders said Trump “was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws.” Sanders added, “This is one of the most vicious and deadly gangs that operates by the motto of rape, control, and kill. If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they’re more than welcome to do so.”
Sanders emphasized President Trump’s reasons for calling MS-13 gang members “animals,” sayin, “Frankly, I don’t think the term that the President used was strong enough. MS-13 has done heinous acts. It took an animal to stab a man a hundred times and decapitate him and rip his heart out. It took an animal to beat a woman — they were sex trafficking — with a bat 28 times, indenting part of her body. And it took an animal to kidnap, drug, and rape a 14-year-old Houston girl. Frankly, I think that the term “animal” doesn’t go far enough. And I think that the President should continue to use his platform and everything he can do under the law to stop these types of horrible, horrible, disgusting people.”
On Thursday, May 17, 2018, President Trump also clarified that his comment was directed toward describing MS-13 gang members, not all illegal immigrants.
Trump explained, “I’m referring, and you know I’m referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in. I was talking about the MS-13. And if you look a little bit further on the tape you’ll see that. So, I’m actually surprised you are asking this question because most people got it right.”
“MS-13, these are animals,” Trump continued. “They’re coming into our country, we’re getting them out. They come in again, we’re getting them out. We need strong immigration laws... We have laws that are laughed at on immigration. So, when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals and guess what? I always will.”
Nationally syndicated conservative radio talk host Dennis Prager defended Trump. “Calling the cruelest among us names such as ‘animal’ or any other ‘dehumanizing’ epithet actually protects humans,” Prager argued. “The word ‘beastly’ exists for a reason and is frequently applied to human beings. By rhetorically reading certain despicable people out of the human race, we elevate the human race. We have declared certain behaviors out of line with being human.”
Praeger insisted use of the term ‘animals’ was appropriate in describing MS-13 gang members.
“Anyone who refuses to ‘dehumanize’ the Nazi physicians — who, with no anesthesia, froze naked people for hours and then dropped them in boiling water to rewarm them; put people in depressurized rooms where their eardrums burst, driving them out of their minds from pain; rubbed wood shavings and ground glass into infected wounds; etc. — is, to put it very gently, profoundly morally confused,” Prager insisted.
Trump blames legal loopholes for protecting MS-13 gang members
On May 23, 2018, the White House put out a fact sheet on MS-13 that backed up President Trump’s plea for congressional action.
“I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminals to break into our country,” President Trump said, stressing that MS-13 is a threat to American communities.
The White House fact sheet pointed out that MS-13 is a transnational gang that has committed horrendous acts of violence in communities across the United States. Members of MS-13 are identified with distinctive tattoos that frequently cover the head, arms, and upper body. The tattoos are typically done in “black letter” solids of blue indigo ink with letters written in Gothic script. These indelible tattoos identify permanently the person as a member of MS-13, demonstrating the person’s lifelong loyalty to the gang. Some gang members tattoo their scalps, cheeks, or eyelids, wanting easily visible body parts to identify them with MS-13.
The White House estimates that currently there are more than 10,000 MS-13 members in the United States and more than 30,000 members worldwide. MS-13 is active in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia. Local MS-13 leaders often communicate with and take orders from gang leaders in El Salvador.
On the same day, May 23, 2018, President Trump traveled to Long Island for the second time in less than a year to hold a roundtable on MS-13. “We are here today to discuss the menace of MS-13, a ruthless gang that has violated our borders and transformed our once peaceful neighborhoods into blood-stained fields,” he said.
He stressed that the administration is working on a plan to cut foreign aid to countries that allow gang members to enter the United States. At the roundtable, Trump acknowledged the parents of two teenage girls, Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who were brutally killed by MS-13 in September 2016. According to the White House fact sheet, MS-13 is the largest and most violent gang on Long Island, with an estimated 2,000 MS-13 members in the area. Between 2016 and 2018, police estimate that MS-13 played a role in at least 25 killings on Long Island.
Specifying the legal loopholes that hinder state and local police in conjunction with federal immigration law enforcement officials from effectively confronting MS-13, the White House fact sheet noted the following:
On February 9, 2017, President Trump signed a presidential executive order, “On Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking,” which instructed the Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement agencies to reverse Obama administration policies that allowed criminal gangs like MS-13 to proliferate within the United States.
On June 14, 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York had launched “Operation Matador,” to create “a united effort dedicated to combat the proliferation of MS-13 and other transnational criminal gang activity in the New York City metropolitan area, including Long Island.”
White House doubles-down, calling MS-13 “animals”
With a fact sheet published on May 21, 2018 entitled “What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13,” the White House doubled down on its decision to not back down from President Trump’s characterization of MS-13 gang members as “animals.”
Among the violent MS-13 murders in communities across the country, the White House fact sheet cited the following:
The fact sheet stressed that MS-13 commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, and human trafficking. The sheet continued to emphasize that recent investigations have revealed gang leaders based in El Salvador have been sending representatives into the United States illegally to connect the leaders with local gang members. These foreign-based gang leaders direct local members to become even more violent in an effort to control more territory.
On May 21, 2018, the Washington Post noted that by pressing the attack on MS-13 gang members described as “animals,” the White House “sought to cast Trump’s opponents as allies of members of MS-13, the transitive enemy-of-my-enemy property of political argument.” It was clearly in that spirit that the White House statement was released, a new front in the thumb-in-the-liberal’s eye manner that quickly trickled down from the president to his team and his allies. To make the point even more strongly, the Washington Post article concluded, “If Trump’s opponents object to dehumanizing MS-13, then we will dehumanize members of MS-13 as eagerly as possible.”
Clearly, this positioning has given the White House the upper hand in the debate about how to keep Americans safe, with President Trump tweeting on May 26, 2018, “Democrats are Protecting MS-13 Thugs” – a characterization Democrats will want to avoid with the mid-term elections only six months away.
Once again, President Trump has managed to maneuver the hard-Left into a losing political position. Even progressive commentators are forced to admit that Trump’s White House has now successfully manipulated the Left into defending gang members. President Trump has positioned himself as tough on gang members – so tough that he calls them “animals” – while liberals and the media are defending the rights of the people in a gang.
While the Trump administration has struggled to find a Congressional majority willing to fund building Trump’s much-promised wall, the focus on MS-13 appears to be a brilliant tactic that focuses the debate on the most criminal element of the Obama administration’s eight years of open-borders policy. Who would want to champion the tattoo-riddled, drug-dealing, brutally murderous MS-13 gang – a gang that terrorizes communities by rapes, torture, executions of innocent young schoolgirls, child sex trafficking, and a score of equally heinous crimes?
By focusing on MS-13 gang violence and by being willing to call MS-13 gang members “animals,” President Trump has managed to reframe the illegal immigration issue brilliantly. Suddenly, the immigration debate has shifted away from the Left’s decades-old insistence that illegal immigrants have the same rights as citizens. Instead, Trump has succeeded in shining the spotlight on the violent danger illegal immigrant gangs like MS-13 represent to local communities across the country.