Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Thinks You’re Stupid

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Getty Images

When you hear the term "concentration camp," what's the first thing you think of? The concentration of German nationals by Woodrow Wilson during World War One, right? Or maybe the forced concentration of the Whites by the Reds following the Finnish Civil War?

No. You think of the Holocaust of course, which is why it was quite irresponsible for Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to declare recently that the United States's "fascist government" (Is there a more self-defeating argument than calling the ruling regime "fascist" and facing zero consequences?) is operating "concentration camps." What the government is actually operating are detention facilities to deal with the surge in migrants crossing the Mexican border. To my knowledge, said detention facilities have not yet undertaken the genocide of millions.

So absurd is the comparison and insulting to actual Holocaust survivors that Ocasio-Cortez's only recourse—what with her deathly allergy to apology or self-reflection—was to double-down that teeeeeeechnically "concentration camp" is not synonymous with "death camp," so there.

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To begin with, it does nothing for Ocasio-Cortez's argument to boil down concentration camps to merely "the mass detention of civilians without trial," when the entire purpose of the facilities she is misdescribing is to detain individuals pending further hearings. These stays can be lengthy given the ongoing border crisis, on average 34 days, but that's only somewhat worse than the 25-day average length of stay in American jails before trial. I suspect most would bristle at the notion the U.S. routinely jails thousands "without trial" when those individuals are simply awaiting trial.

But to her larger point, there was indeed a time when "concentration camp" was a value-neutral term for camps a government forced large groups of people into. That time ended circa 1945 when Allied troops discovered the worst genocide in recorded history, and the true extent of German "concentration camps" came to light.

Go ahead and Google "concentration camp." For me as of this writing, it brings up images of Nazi concentration camps, the Wikipedia page for "Nazi concentration camps," various articles from The Holocaust Encyclopedia and the Jewish Virtual Library on Nazi concentration camps, and a dictionary definition noting "the term is most strongly associated with the several hundred camps established by the Nazis in Germany and occupied Europe in 1933–45." The other suggested searches are the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, Buchenwald, and Dachau.

All of which is to say that in common parlance, "concentration camps" refers almost exclusively to Nazi camps set up as part of premeditated mass murder in a scheme to exterminate entire people groups. You know this. Ocasio-Cortez knows this. She knows you know this. For her to try to pretend the use of the term wouldn't immediately evoke the Holocaust is an insult to everyone's intelligence.

In any case, Ocasio-Cortez did not just say "concentration camps." She specifically said "never again." To demur that she wasn't comparing the camps to death camps per se while using a term that refers specifically to the Holocaust is bold enough. But what exactly did Ocasio-Cortez think the world promised would never happen again? Merely concentrating large groups of people? I'm pretty sure it was the genocide.

If Trump is operating "concentration camps," then Obama was also operating "concentration camps," Bill Clinton ran a "concentration camp" for Haitian refugees at Guantanamo, Gerald Ford was operating "concentration camps" when forced to deal with Vietnamese refugees, Jimmy Carter operated "concentration camps" of Cuban migrants from the Mariel boatlift, and whoever inherits the current immigration crisis will almost certainly continue to operate "concentration camps" in the future. Reacting to surges in migration by detaining huge groups of people and not letting them disperse is standard operating procedure. What Ocasio-Cortez imputes to fascism is more easily explained by simple necessity.

Comparing your opponents to Nazis is the favored debate tactic of many an internet dullard. But at least your average troll owns up to their sophistry. Ocasio-Cortez throws around awful talking points and then, when called out on them, insults her listeners' intelligence by insisting she never meant it at all. No, you understood her the first time, and she really is that shameless.