At an immigration-related meeting with California Republican officials on Wednesday, President Trump responded to a complaint about a hypothetical MS-13 gang member by saying, "these aren't people, these are animals." There was some confusion about whom he was talking about, since he did not mention gangs or MS-13 and set up his "animals" statement like this: "We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are." On Thursday, Trump clarified: "I'm referring, and you know I'm referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in."
"We have laws that are laughed at on immigration," Trump said Thursday. "So when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals. And guess what — I always will." Critics, including the Mexican government, have argued that Trump purposely conflates "gang members" and "immigrants" and point out that calling any person an "animal" is dehumanizing, and a tactic used in other countries before mass atrocities. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders one-upped Trump on Thursday, practically daring reporters to criticize her or Trump.
"The president was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws," Sanders said. "If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they're more than welcome to. Frankly, I don't think the term that the president used was strong enough." Some members of MS-13 have done horrible things. But the Trumps haven't only reserved such language for El Salvador-based gangs. Last June, Eric Trump, referring to Democrats, told Fox News host Sean Hannity: "I've never seen hatred like this. To me, they're not even people." Noted.