As the Trump administration receives backlash from anti-Semitic alt-right supporters over Stephen Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council and the political rise of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, White House spokesman Sean Spicer minimizes the crimes of Adolf Hitler.
During the Jewish holiday of Passover, Spicer thought it was appropriate at a news briefing on Tuesday to state an “alternative fact” regarding Hitler when discussing the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed 87 people.
“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said.
Six million Jews were killed by Nazis in the Holocaust during World War II; many were executedin gas chambers.
His statement sparked instant outrage on social media, as the comment is comparable to current anti-Semitic rhetoric and distortion of Holocaust facts fueled by the alt-right, many of whom are Trump supporters.
When a reporter asked Spicer if he wanted to clarify his comments, he said: “I think when you come to sarin gas, there was nohe was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”
Spicer apologized later in the day.
“It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it and I won’t do it again,” he told CNN in an interview. “It was inappropriate and insensitive.”
Spicer also sent out a statement to reporters:
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
But there have been calls for his termination.
“Sean Spicer now lacks the integrity to serve as White House press secretary, and President Trump must fire him at once,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosisaid in a statement:
“Sean Spicer must be fired, and the president must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements.”
Following Spicer’s statement, The U.S. Holocaust Museum tweeted a graphic video of dead bodies U.S. forces found while liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp.
In January, the administration’s statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day omitted any mention of Jewish victims.
At the time, Spicer defended that statement by saying it had been written in part by a Jewish staff member whose family members had survived the Holocaust.
Trump Family Not Present at Passover Seder
Trump did not attend the annual White House Passover Seder on Monday night, a tradition started under former President Barack Obama in 2009. Obama attended the event each year he was in office, and his family participated as well.
According toThe Washington Post, Trump is the first president with immediate family members who are Jewish his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Kushner. The couple also did not attend the Passover Seder.
Kusher, Trump’s senior adviser and recently appointed head of the White House Office of American Innovation, is an Orthodox Jew, and Ivanka converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner in 2009.
“The event was really for the staff who were unable to get home to spend the holiday with their families,” White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom told PEOPLE magazine.
Strom said that about 35 people, both Jewish and non-Jewish staff, were present at Monday night’s Seder, with attendees such as Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Jeremy Katz, deputy director of the National Economic Council.
Though Ivanka and her family were not in attendance, she tweeted a photo of them on Monday in recognition of Passover.
Anti-Semitism, Trump Administration and the Alt-Right
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) report published Monday, calls by the alt-right to “fire Kushner” are a “full-bore assault perpetrated primarily by white supremacists and anti-Semites of various stripes.”
“What started as a few isolated anti-Semitic tweets suggesting that Jared Kushner should be ‘fired’ because of his ‘Jewish supremacist views’ has quickly metastasized into a full-blown onslaught of anti-Semitic hate speech,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement.
“It shows how quickly hate speech can multiply and come to light on social media platforms, and reminds us of how much work we need to do to combat hate.”
Bannon, former head of a website linked to the alt-right, was chosen by Trump as his chief White House strategist, a move which was praised by the alt-right base.
But his removal from the National Security Council, the cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base ordered by Trump and reports of tensions between Kushner and Bannon have created the theory among the alt-right community that Kushner and other Jews in the government are “putting the interests of Israel and world Jewry first,” as stated on neo-Nazi websites.
“Well-known anti-Semites such as David Duke joined the chorus, leading to more than 300,000 mentions on Twitter,” according to the ADL.
The alt-right movement gained steam during the 2016 presidential election in support of Trump.
During a February 18 press conference when Trump was asked a question regarding the recent rise in anti-Semitism, he only commented about himself, not the sentiments of his supporters.
He said, “So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person You heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu yesterday He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it.”
The National Policy Institute, a leading group of the alt-right movement buoyed by Trump’s win, includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
During a November 19 meeting of The National Policy Institute, a think tank that is part of the alt-right movement, attendees praised both Trump and Hitler.
A video by The Atlantic taken inside the conference in Washington, D.C., showed Richard Spencer, leader of the institute, shouting, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” as some of the people in attendance lifted their hands in a Nazi salute.
The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, described Spencer as an “academic racist” who backs creation of an Aryan homeland.
Also following the meeting, some attendees gathered at a restaurant where a woman tweeted a picture of herself making a Nazi salute.
Members of the National Policy Institute, including reality TV personality Tila Tequila, show Nazi salute in photo posted to Twitter.
Trump-Pence Transition spokesman Bryan Lanza said in a statement following the incident that “President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American.”