taking the words of Jesus seriously

Former president Donald Trump, in a speech on Veterans Day described people who politically disagree with him as vermin.  He said “we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.”  This is not the first time that Trump has talked this way. He continually refers to his political opposition as the most pressing threat facing America. Trump has repeatedly stated that if he is again elected president he will go after people who disagree with him. His press secretary said “their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”   One of his closest advisors, Steve Bannon, recently on the show The Circus, reiterated what Trump said and meant. They are even talking about setting up internment camps. This is not the first time Trump has used this type of rhetoric. Recently while being interviewed on Univision, he said that if he’s elected in 2024, he may use the federal government to punish his critics. He repeatedly has talked about having the government inflict more violence on its enemies. Trump has called for shoplifters to be shot and Military Generals who disagree with him to be executed for treason. Recently Trump called for citizens’ arrest of the judges and prosecutors who have bought criminal charges against him. The comparison between his language and that used by people like Hitler and Mussolini has been well documented.  

While many are raising the alarm that the rhetoric used by Trump and his allies has the potential to cause real danger and violence, by refusing to condemn this hateful violent rhetoric, his allies are expressing their support. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel declined to address the “vermin” remark in multiple media appearances.  When asked she said “I am not going to comment on candidates and their campaign messaging. Arizona congressman Andy Biggs used violent language to call for retribution. He said: “We have now reached a war phase, An eye for an eye.” Even media outlets are joining in. The conservative activist and radio talk show host and founder of Turning Point USA Charles Kirk called for imprisoning Democratic politicians and even their families and the execution of Biden. 

This angry, hateful, divisive rhetoric is not limited to Trump and his allies.  Their extremist language is being used all across America.  It is language being used not just by political leaders but by everyday people in everyday situations. You can find it on social media at campaign rallies at schools and in churches. The people using the language often claim to be folks of deep faith. Kirk claims to be an Evangelical Christian and Biggs a Mormon. The threats are not just directed at political leaders who disagree with Trump.  They are often made against ordinary people just trying to create a better world. It is simple to demonize and criminalize nameless faceless groups of people. You can easily assign negative traits and characteristics to them. You can blame them for all of society’s ills and believe that they are the cause of your problems. But before you do this, think about who you are really demonizing.   

As the Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote: 

First, they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Ironically, Niemöller started out as a strong supporter and sympathized with many Nazi ideas, he supported radically right-wing political movements. It wasn’t until several years later, after Hitler came into power, that he realized his mistake and became a critic. 

If you know me you know that I proudly stand for social justice. I strongly believe in feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, caring for the poor and welcoming the stranger. I have been part of a movement to organize protests against injustice, I have participated in and organized actions of nonviolent civil disobedience to protest against Trump’s policies and actions. I have gone on long hunger fasts to protest our inaction on climate or our policies of separating children from their parents at the border.  I have written and published articles about how these policies are not following the teachings of Jesus or any other spiritual leader. I am the son of immigrants, when I was born my parents were not citizens. They later proudly became citizens but I was a citizen as a result of being born in the US.   If all this makes me part of the radical left, I wear that badge with honor. I do these things because I try to follow in the footsteps of people like Jesus, St Francis of Assisi, Gandhi and others.

So, when Trump and his allies are talking about sending people who oppose and disagree with him off to camps, they are not talking about some nameless faceless boogeyman. They are talking about me.  Maybe we know each other. Maybe we went to grammar school or high school together or we attend the same church. Perhaps our kids grew up or I coached one of your kids in basketball or softball. Maybe I am the guy you bump into many mornings when we are both walking our dogs. We smile at each other as our dogs greet and we talk about the weather then continue walking our dogs. We could have volunteered at the soup kitchen together. I don’t know, we could have been part of the same book club or something like that. We could see each other at the grocery store and ask about how our kids are doing.  I am not a nameless faceless radical leftist vermin trying to overthrow the government. I am a person deeply committed to my faith and justice. But if you vote for Trump or others who support his policies, you will be voting to send me and others like me to one of the internment camps that Trump and his allies are talking about. Please think about that when you decide to cast your vote. 

At the Holocaust Museum there is a wall that has statements from folks who were alive during this horrific time. The statements are from famous people like politicians, business leaders, media stars and sports figures. There are also statements from common everyday people. These statements all have the same thoughts. I wish I had known, if I knew then what I know now I would have done more, I should have done more, how could we have let this happen, I should have spoken out. I pray that 30 years from now there will not be a wall in a museum with a statement from you saying If I had known i would have spoken out and done more. 

Peace and All Good, 

Patrick Carolan

About The Author

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Patrick Carolan is a Catholic activist, writer and storyteller. He served as the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, co-founded the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Faithful Democracy Coalition and the Catholics Vote Common Good organization.

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