During a visit to the border on Friday, President Trump declared, “Our country is full.”
“Can’t take you anymore,” he said, as if he were addressing migrants from Mexico and Central America directly, though none were in the room for the roundtable in Calexico, Calif.
Yet people in other countries did take note of his words. In Germany, a local division of the nationalist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, celebrated the American president’s pronouncement. The party’s branch in Bad Dürkheim, a spa town of about 19,000 in western Germany’s pastoral Rhineland region, hailed Trump on Facebook as a “realistic man who has the courage to speak the truth."
A user commented, “Germany is also full.”
Trump’s language — repeated on Saturday and affirmed again in a Sunday evening tweet stressing, “Our country is FULL!” — was rebuked in the United States as an aberration. But it fits a pattern of far-right rhetoric reemerging globally. Fear of an immigrant takeover motivates fascist activity in Europe, where, historically, the specter of overcrowding has been used to justify ethnic cleansing.
Adolf Hitler promised “living space” for Germans as the basis of an expansionist project, which historians said distinguishes the Third Reich from today’s xenophobic governments. Still, experts found parallels.
“The echoes do indeed remind one of the Nazi period, unfortunately,” John Connelly, a historian of modern Europe at the University of California at Berkeley, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The exact phrasing may be different, but the spirit is very similar. The concern about an ethnic, national people not having proper space — this is something you could definitely describe as parallel to the 1930s.”
The president’s words became even more freighted when he repeated them on Saturday before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, saying, “Our country is full, can’t come. I’m sorry.”
The remarks drew outrage, with critics pointing to the lesson of the SS St. Louis, a German ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees who were turned away by the United States in 1939. About a quarter of the passengers later perished in Nazi death camps.
The words chosen by Trump have come to be associated with 20th-century moral catastrophe. An account of Switzerland’s xenophobic reaction to Jewish refugees from the Third Reich is titled, “The Lifeboat is Full: Switzerland and the Refugees, 1933-1945.”
Hermann Peiter, a former professor of theology at the University of Kiel, has documented how ideas about the master race gained currency after Germany’s defeat in World War I based on the complaint, “No room for foreigners! Germany is full!”
Already on Thursday, before Trump had declared the country “full,” Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, was comparing the president’s language to the rhetoric used by Nazi leaders.
“Now, I might expect someone to describe another human being as ‘an infestation’ in the Third Reich,” O’Rourke said. “I would not expect it in the United States of America.”
Trump last year described immigrants as “animals,” later saying that he was referring to the MS-13 gang, most of whose members are from Central America. He has used the epithet going at least as far back as 2015, during the first month of his presidential campaign.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, in a statement to the Associated Press, responded to O’Rourke’s comments by portraying the Democrats as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
But it is Trump whose language echoes the warnings of white nationalists in Europe — a connection on which the White House didn’t have an immediate comment.
Signs declaring that Germany is already “occupied” announce the perspective of the anti-Muslim, nationalist movement “Pegida,” a German acronym for a name that translates as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. “The country is full,” the movement’s supporters tell European media, calling Germany the “stupidest country in Europe” for accepting Muslim refugees.
In 2014, Nick Griffin, a former member of the European Parliament and chairman of the far-right British National Party who referred to the Holocaust as the “Holohoax,” said on the BBC, “The country’s full. We’ll shut the door.”
In the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn, a far-right maverick who was slain as he campaigned for prime minister in 2002, popularized an anti-immigrant message in part with the catchphrase, “Our country is full.” Supporters of Geert Wilders, the far-right icon who assumed Fortuyn’s mantle, still use the slogan.
The notion that Germany required more space in the early 20th century was similarly not born out by reality. Parts of eastern Germany were actually underpopulated, Connelly said. But it was a powerful myth, which drove the agenda of “Lebensraum,” he said — “the idea that this great nation had to expand, otherwise it would wither and die.”
Fear of overcrowding has always been a “phantom,” the historian added, “connected also to the idea of there being a pure nation having its own protected territory.” The central obstacle to purity were the Jews, he said; Hitler was less concerned about other ethnic groups.
A former member of Trump’s own party said the president’s warning about population density was similarly specific. David Jolly, a former Florida congressman who was unseated in 2016, noted on Sunday that Trump was only concerned about the entry of certain ethnic groups.
As far-right parties in Europe aim to normalize themselves, they have dispensed with some of the incendiary rhetoric linking them to their 20th-century progenitors. Last year, the National Front in France rebranded as the National Rally to distance itself from memories of Nazi ties. (The new name, however, was reminiscent of a World War II-era bloc that collaborated with the pro-Nazi Vichy government.)
The undertaking has left some of Europe’s most committed far-right activists to look elsewhere for inspiration, including to the U.S. Local party chapters across the continent, fed up with the incremental approach of their national leaders, prize Trump’s flame-throwing. Two years ago, they agreed with the American president that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
In Germany, a regional branch of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party posted a photo of the car attack that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead, including a caption that read, “The Americans aren’t as patient as German nationalists.”
More from Morning Mix: