Detention Camps, “Vermin” Rivals, and a Government Purge: Trump Wants to Go Full Authoritarian


Instead of, say, commemorating American soldiers in his Veterans Day speech, the leading Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential race spent nearly two hours attacking his political foes as verminous beasts who pose more of a danger to the US than its foreign adversaries. “If you have a capable, competent, smart, tough leader, Russia, China, North Korea, they’re not going to want to play with us,” Donald Trump said during his Saturday address in New Hampshire. “Our threat is from within,” he continued, vowing to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.”

“They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American dream,” Trump added.

The comments—which mark new territory in the autocratic rhetoric Trump has used to fuel his campaign—were condemned by several historians. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, told The Washington Post that Trump, in describing his domestic rivals as “vermin,” has co-opted language used by “Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.” 

In a rather self-defeating denial, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung both disputed that accusation as “ridiculous” and warned that those who liken Trump to the 20th-century dictators will have “their entire existence…crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.” (Cheung, who provided the statement to the Post, has since tried to backtrack, telling the paper that he meant to threaten their “sad, miserable existence,” as opposed to threatening to blot out their “entire existence.”)

The White House, for its part, condemned the sentiment behind Trump’s speech without naming him directly. “Using terms like [vermin] about dissent would be unrecognizable to our founders, but horrifyingly recognizable to American veterans who put on their country’s uniform in the 1940s,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement to Vanity Fair. “President Biden believes in his oath to our Constitution, and in American democracy. He works to protect both every day.”

Should he regain the presidency, Trump has said he would use the Justice Department to thwart his political opponents, purge the government of bureaucrats whom he perceives as insufficiently loyal, round up undocumented immigrants, and build sprawling detention camps near the US-Mexico border. Last month, he even touted an age-old white supremacist talking point, claiming that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” 

Much of his authoritarian rhetoric has been directed toward the Justice Department, judges, and state and federal prosecutors in apparent retaliation for the 91 charges he currently faces in two federal and two state cases. Trump’s vengeful fantasy for the Justice Department is particularly telling: At the start of his second term, he would quash the federal cases against him and “completely [overhaul]” the branch, transforming it from his supposed persecutor to a personal political attack dog, he suggested at a rally last week. The same goes for the FBI and the various intelligence agencies he believes have conspired against him, per Axios.

Conservative organizations, under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation, have already begun assembling thousands of loyalists that Trump—or potentially Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis, in the unlikely event that either takes the presidency—could call on, according to Axios. The groups plan to assemble a roster of 20,000 and are screening the ideologies and social media use of applicants to ensure they align with Trump’s plan to expand his executive powers. 

In an interview with Univision last week, Trump made it abundantly clear how far he’d be willing to go if he retakes the White House. “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ Mostly what that would be, they’d be out of business. They’d be out. They’d be out of the election,” he said. But Trump’s list of targets is not limited to political threats, according to the Post. He also has privately discussed using the Justice Department to target old subordinates he feels betrayed him, including his former chief of staff, John Kelly; his former attorney general William Barr; his former attorney Ty Cobb; and Mark Milley, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs during Trump’s time in office. 

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