White House Doubles Down on Calling Undocumented MS-13 Gang Members 'Animals'

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump. |

The White House has stood by President Donald Trump's recent comments calling members of the violent gang MS-13 "animals," despite criticism from some that such a label is wrong.

Last Wednesday, Trump made headlines when during a meeting he had with law enforcement officials he called undocumented gang members "animals," seemingly in reference to the criminal El Salvadorian-based gang MS-13.

"You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals," he said.

On Friday morning, Trump took to Twitter to defend his comments, noting that mainstream media outlets and liberal activists misinterpreted his remarks as referring to all immigrants.

"Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, 'Animals.' Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories. I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as 'Animals,' a big difference — and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual," tweeted the president.

On Monday, the White House released a report titled "What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13," which documented various atrocities committed by MS-13 members. 

"MS-13 is a transnational gang that has brought violence, fear, and suffering to American communities. MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more," explained the White House.

Gang members who are also inmates pose for a photograph at a prison in Quezaltepeque, on the outskirts of San Salvador June 2, 2012. |

"In their motto, the animals of MS-13 make clear their goal is to 'kill, rape, control.' The gang has more than 10,000 members in the United States spreading violence and suffering."

Trump's "animals" reference garnered  controversy in large part because several media outlets and blogs misintepreted his remarks to mean that he was referring to all immigrants.

Entities including The Associated Press issued corrections, with the wire service explaining in a Tweet last week that they had deleted an earlier post over lack of context.

"AP has deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump's 'animals' comment about immigrants because it wasn't made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members," stated the AP on May 17.

Some Christians took issue with Trump's remarks. Fr. James Martin, author and editor at the Jesuit publication America magazine, stated on Twitter that he believed the president was wrong even after clarifying that he was only talking about MS-13.

"To be clear, even members of MS-13 are not 'animals.' Every human being has dignity, even the worst criminals, even murderers," posted Martin.

"The main danger of the 'animal' language is that it begins with criminals, and then is applied to entire classes of people (i.e., migrants, Tutsi, Jews)."

Progressive blogger Rachel Held Evans posted a series of tweets in which she noted multiple issues she had with the president's comments.

"What's infuriating about all this is that Trump would like nothing more than to keep MS-13 at the center of the immigration conversation, rather than the majority of decent & desperate Latin immigrants & their children," tweeted Evans.

"Lastly, it's important to remember that even the most evil people are, in fact, people. Assuming they are animals or monsters reassures us that we incapable of similar atrocities. No doubt the Christian slaveowners and 'good Germans' were similarly reassured."

Illinois-based Christian blogger Justin Taylor posted a tweet drawing a parallel to former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's controversial "basket of deplorables" statement.

"Saying that undocumented criminals are 'animals, not people' = wrong. Calling groups of people a 'basket of deplorables' = wrong. Critiquing one and defending the other = wrong," stated Taylor. "Maybe I'm missing something, but this doesn't seem that hard."

Others on Twitter have been more sympathetic to Trump's labeling of MS-13, with some pointing out that in the Bible Jesus once called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers."

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