Yes, 'Send Her Back' Is the Face of Evil—I Know Fascism When I See It | Opinion

"All effective propaganda must be confined to very few points," Adolf Hitler wrote, "which must be brought out in the form of slogans."

"Drain the swamp." "Lock her up." "Build the wall." These are the slogans that former Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon said won the election in 2016. On Wednesday, at a Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, a horrifying new one emerged: "Send her back."

As I've said, it takes a lot to shock me. This chant, however, directly invokes an ideology that I know well, one that connects citizenship to a mythical ethnic or national essence, and demands unquestioning fealty to its leader and symbols. It's called fascism. That's why I stated that what we saw in Greenville is the face of evil, and now I'll explain.

My father was born in Berlin in 1932. Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, had come to power using shocking rhetoric about my father's religion: The Jews, he said, were not really German, a fifth column of traitors who maligned the country's traditions and character. Their ultimate aim was a communist takeover, he claimed, and Jewish loyalty was not to Germany but rather to international Jewry.

In September 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Germany's new citizenship laws did not merely focus on its Jewish population, however. Hitler was obsessed with what he regarded as Germany's lax immigration and citizenship laws. The Nuremberg Laws also excluded those considered not "of German or kindred blood" from German citizenship.

National Socialism, the political doctrine of the Nazi Party, is an extreme case of an ideology, fascism, that defines a country's identity negatively, via the vilification of immigrants and ethnic or religious minorities. Loyalty to a specific ethnic or national identity is the highest value. Supporters view the leader of the nation to be a sacred embodiment of this identity—thus, criticism of the leader is a form of treason.

In his 1947 book, The Language of the Third Reich, Victor Klemperer described fascist propaganda as "the language of mass fanaticism." Nazi rallies were characterized by ritualistic chanting.

Now, citizenship, immigration and loyalty to nation are once again major themes of a political movement—this time in the United States.

As president, Donald Trump has focused on restricting immigration and deporting undocumented residents. He has railed against supposedly lax immigration laws and birthright citizenship. And he has begun his re-election campaign with these themes, taking four non-white Democratic congresswomen as his main targets.

In a tweet this past Sunday, the president suggested that Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." In subsequent tweets, he described them as "Anti-America" and "pro-terrorist," with a mission to transform the United States into a "Socialist or Communist Country."

He has taken particular aim at Omar, a Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota who arrived as a refugee from Somalia in childhood.

To some Americans, their fellow citizens of Muslim faith are a fifth column in the United States, whose loyalty is to their fellow Muslims rather than their country. As we saw with conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama, this view is often attached to allegations of a secret Muslim plot to bring socialism to our shores. As a Muslim leftist, Omar is a tempting target for a president who has relentlessly targeted immigration by this religious minority in his rhetoric and policies.

The chants of "Send her back" in North Carolina reflect the belief that Omar's political opposition is not legitimate because it is a reflection of the subversive nature of Muslim immigrants.

It is absurd to conceive of America fundamentally as a place where a group of people with a shared ethnic, linguistic and religious past reside. America is more coherently thought of as a set of political ideals that unify Americans in a collective effort to realize them. Chief among these ideals is freedom, particularly political freedom. The American project involves criticizing our past and our present, in an effort to realize our American values over time—a commitment to this project, not a shared religion or race, is what binds us together.

It is scarcely possible to engage in the American project by replacing political freedom with unquestioning loyalty. Robust political criticism of our past and present is thus a fundamentally American practice. Threatening to strip citizenship from political opponents for engaging in it is fundamentally un-American. The suggestion that this step is justified because these opponents are immigrants or religious minorities is even more so, as freedom includes religious freedom.

Donald Trump Greenville Rally
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on July 17 in Greenville, North Carolina, during which the crowd chanted, "Send her back." Zach Gibson/Getty

My father arrived in the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany in August 1939; my mother, having survived the Holocaust in a Siberian labor camp, arrived in 1948. Their first glimpses of their new homes were from the deck of boats sailing into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty.

Both my parents were haunted for decades by the slogans and chants they heard on the streets of Germany.

Both took comfort in the fact that America is a country defined by political ideals flatly inconsistent with the vilification of a religious minority.

No political party in the United States today can be justifiably compared with the National Socialists. But the Republican Party, under the leadership of Trump, is seeking to retain political power by borrowing crucial elements of its ideology and tactics. All patriotic Americans should be aghast.

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky professor of philosophy at Yale University. His latest book is How Fascism Works.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.