Sunday , May 26 2024
Turn in your neighbors or suffer the consequences. What's next, Mr. Trump?

Donald Trump and the Specter of a New McCarthyism

I want that headline to sink in for a moment. Let it simmer awhile.

Donald Trump has just assigned collective guilt upon American Muslims whom he believes are knowingly harboring and abetting terrorists. He wants them to turn in suspicious neighbors. Report on them. Of course we’re all obligated to report suspicious behavior already. You can find the rules on the Department of Homeland Security‘s website:

  • Unusual items or situations: A vehicle is parked in an odd location, a package/luggage is unattended, a window/door is open that is usually closed, or other out-of-the-ordinary situations occur.
  • Eliciting information: A person questions individuals at a level beyond curiosity about a building’s purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel, shift changes, etc.
  • Observation/surveillance: Someone pays unusual attention to facilities or buildings beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation (particularly in concealed locations); unusual, repeated, and/or prolonged observation of a building (e.g., with binoculars or video camera); taking notes or measurements; counting paces; sketching floor plans, etc.

But I don’t thinks that’s–at all–what Donald Trump has in mind. Of all the wrong-minded, truly scary things that Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate for President of the United States said yesterday in speeches and more, this is the most chilling. Trump’s entire post-Orlando message was rife with fear- and hate-mongering speech directed against Muslims, whether directly or through “dog whistles.”trump

Don’t misunderstand me. I absolutely believe that if someone has actual knowledge of a mass carnage attack (as it is being reported this morning about the Pulse shooter’s wife), it is their responsibility to report it or be an accessory to murder. Failure to do so is already a criminal act. And that applies no matter religious, racial, political or ethnic background. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has in place a program to encourage and inform about “suspicious activity” and how to report it and to whom.

But that’s not what Trump is saying. He’s referring solely to the Muslim community: neighborhoods, mosques and schools. I heard no suggestion of the same for, say, Christian extremists who stock their homes with explosives and assault weapons to use on African-American churches, women’s health care clinics or LGBTQ gatherings (many of whom support Mr. Trump’s candidacy).  Yes, the murderer in Saturday night’s Pulse massacre in Orlando was Muslim. Yes, he claimed inspiration from ISIS (and, interestingly, a host of other competing terrorist organizations that hate each other). But also he was a homophobe (and possibly a self-hating closeted gay man himself), and a religious fanatic. What drove him to this heinous deed? One or the other or some combination thereof with who-knows-how-much mental disturbance?

Call him an Islamic Extremist. Call him ISIS, a Jihadi. Fine. Use this massacre to demand that restrictions be placed on Muslims in this country–all Muslims, including American citizens: surveil their mosques, their schools, their neighbors, their comings and goings.

But, then do not tell me that the terrorist who carried out the Charleston massacre was a “disturbed young man.” Don’t tell me that the 20-year-old white Indiana man arrested in Santa Monica with a carload of weapons and headed to the L.A. gay pride parade was just expressing his Second Amendment Rights. And don’t tell me that the gunman who opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last year was only trying to “save the lives of unborn fetuses.” Oh, yeah. And Timothy McVeigh fellow who massacred 168 men, women, and children while injuring 600 more.

Each of these horrible men are just like the Orlando mass murderer; just like the San Bernardino mass murderer, just like the Ft. Hood mass murderer–each with a political or religious axe to grind, a statement to make. Muslim or not, they are all terrorists. So do we spy on churches that might inspire homophobic hate crimes? Organizations that espouse a return to lynchings? White supremacist demagogue-wannabes that provoke hate to the point that their followers are moved to action? Just whom are we to turn in our free and open society? And at what point does the logical conclusion of it make America unrecognizable?

Troll the Internet and read the hate that pours out from extremists of all sorts. Yeah, there are the home-grown “Islamic Jihadist” sites. But have you seen the anti-American hatred spewed by white nationalists promising a coming race war and much more?

We’ve been there before. Too many times.

The chilling demand, especially from a would-be President of the United States to “Turn in your neighbors or suffer the consequences–be brought to justice” makes me wonder about the future of this country–exceptional for its openness and promise of tolerance no matter race, creed, religion (or lack thereof), or gender. Makes me wonder how far backwards we are to travel. Are internment camps next? Rounding up entire families? Blacklisting? Deportation of American citizens for their religion? Think that’s crazy? I wonder.

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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