A man flashes a white power symbol in front of Farmington Hills' Holocaust Memorial Center.
Things got really stupid really fast at a Close the Camps rally held outside Farmington's Holocaust Memorial Center on Tuesday, where Jewish activists gathered to protest ICE's migrant detention centers. The rally also drew a counterprotest, which included Trump supporters — and resulted in a surreal image of a man flashing a white power sign among Israeli flag wavers in front of the Holocaust Memorial Center, a building that was designed to resemble a concentration camp.
How did we get here? Hang tight while we untangle this pretzel-shaped logic.
In recent months, Jewish activists have been mobilizing protests in opposition to the deplorable and overcrowded conditions at ICE's migrant detention centers, directly comparing the crisis at the southern U.S. border to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
"Across the country, Jews have been relentlessly mobilizing against ICE to prove that when they say Never Again, they mean it," reads a recent VICE article
But at the Close the Camps rally held outside the Holocaust Memorial Center on Tuesday, the Conference on Jewish Affairs mounted a counterprotest, arguing that what is happening at the southern border is not the same as the Holocaust and that to compare the two is "exploitation."
"They're trying to exploit the Holocaust," Sue Burstein, a member of the Michigan Jewish Action Council, told The Detroit Free Press
. "There's nothing that equates to the Holocaust. Nobody forced them in detention camps. They're welcome to their own opinion, but do not trivialize what happened to 5 million people."
The counterprotest reportedly also drew support from the Proud Boys, an all-male far-right extremist group that has been designated a hate group
by the Souther Poverty Law Center. In a video captured by Close the Camps activist Mark Adler, a group of men is seen chanting "Build the Wall" and waving Trump and Israeli flags. At one point, one of their members is seen staring directly at the camera and flashing the "OK" sign, which following a hoax perpetrated by internet trolls has become adopted by some as a white power symbol
View this post on Instagram
Last night, I attended a rally at the Holocaust Memorial Center to close the camps on the southern border whose speakers included a rabbi and a Holocaust survivor. While they were speaking, several white supremacists who gathered about twenty feet away began shouting into a megaphone. I’m trying to remember all the ridiculous things I was called, but the standouts were “self-loathing Jew,” “communist” and “subhuman.” While the first charge might occasionally be accurate, I rarely find my self-loathing has anything to do with my Judaism. As for the second two, rather than bothering to defend myself, I’ll simply point out the irony in being called a communist and subhuman at the Holocaust Center. By white supremacists. Something tells me none of them have ever been inside. Oscar Wilde said, “Irony is wasted on the stupid.” It’s a funny anecdote but its truth carries a certain sadness. On one hand, I wish a fascist wielding an Israeli flag and a megaphone didn’t have to miss out on the hilarity of yelling, “shame on you,” to a large group that included a bunch of Jews in their sixties and seventies. On the other hand, regardless of whether or not they KNEW people like the speaker had been called ‘communist’ and ‘subhuman’ by far more threatening (if only slightly less hilarious) fascists, they didn’t care. And I’m reminded the reason ignorance is so often linked to hatred is not simply because hate mongers are too stupid to learn why hate is wrong. It’s because they’re unwilling. Because they’re consumed by hate. So, we say, “never forget, never again,” but what to make of those who never bothered to learn in the first place? I suppose they’re free to call me a communist for believing there are things our country should do to make conditions better for a bunch of innocent kids on the southern border... But they will never-not be the guys flashing white supremacy symbols and shouting “BUILD A WALL!” outside of the Holocaust Memorial Center and its rather prominent barbed wire facade. And as far as this irony being lost on them? I don’t care. #closethecamps
Things got even weirder on Wednesday morning when President Donald Trump tweeted a quote from a right-wing conspiracy theorist who said Trump was "the king of Israel."
We have whiplash: Two years ago, Trump infamously referred to the "very fine people on both sides" of the anti-Semitic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which erupted into violence and resulted in a white nationalist driving a car into a crowd and killing a counterprotester.
At least 27 adults and 7 children have died in the custody of ICE since 2017, the Freep
reports. As some rabbis who spoke in support of the Close the Camps protest pointed out, the Holocaust didn't start with the concentration camps.
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple for Humanistic Judaism supported the comparison, saying that the Holocaust started with a propaganda campaign meant to dehumanize Jews.
"Leading up to the Holocaust were thousands of human rights violations — one after the other after the other, that combined to dehumanize Jews so that when the order came through to finally exterminate the population of Jews of Europe, the people had become so desensitized or so filled with hatred or fear or suspicion, that this became something that they were willing to follow," he told the paper.
"We desperately want our history taught to all the children of the United States and the world ... because we never want it to happen to anyone else again," he said. "And yet now we're facing a situation where to even invoke that horror is to somehow betray Jewish history. The fact is, that isn't how history works."
"They're not death camps — not yet," Rabbi Salem Pearce told VICE
of ICE's detention centers.
"But the death camps that have existed throughout history often don’t start that way. They start being places where people who are targeted because of their race or status are put into isolated places and denied due process. The characterization is accurate."
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.