White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in an attempt to criticize Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack, said that even Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II.
Despite the fact that Hitler killed millions of Jews using gas chambers, Spicer said during a briefing on April 11, “We had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
When a reporter gave him the opportunity to clarify during the briefing on Tuesday, Spicer defended his remarks by differentiating Hitler’s and Assad’s actions, according to The New York Times.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he (Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said. “He brought them into the Holocaust center I understand that. What I am saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought – so the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”
The comment came during the first day of Passover, which is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday in the U.S., and during the Christian Holy Week.
Shortly after the briefing, Spicer emailed a different statement to reporters: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
Spicer’s comment received criticism and outrage from various platforms, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump, it’s time to fire @PressSec Sean Spicer,” and Senator Ben Cardin, tweeted, “Someone get @PressSec a refresher history course on Hitler stat #Icantbelievehereallysaidthat,” The New York Times reported.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also shared its outrage – they tweeted a video of the liberation of the Buchenwald, Germany concentration camp by U.S. forces, according to the Washington Post.
Spicer additionally apologized on CNN, where he said, “I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week, using chemical weapons and gas. Frankly I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison. And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
Dr. Saliba Sarsar, a professor of Political Science, offered a clarification of the attacks that have occurred in in Syria, which is “in a conflict of war situation.”
He continued, “The chemical attack on Halabja in March 1988 on the order of Saddam Hussein, which killed and injured thousands of Kurdish civilians, was a genocidal massacre. Similarly, the chemical attacks…on Khan al-Assal in March 2013, in Ghouta in August 2013, and…the April 2017 attack are reprehensible and those responsible must be brought to justice.”
Dr. Sarsar also said that Spicer has since apologized for his comments.
During an appearance the following day at a Newseum sponsored forum, which was broadcast live by CNN and MSNBC, Spicer told anchor Greta Van Susteren, “On both a personal and professional level, yesterday was not a very good day in my history.” Spicer, the press secretary of the White House. continued, “No matter what you do, what you wear, it gets amplified to a degree that you couldn’t imagine.”
Dr. Johanna Foster, Director of the Sociology Program, expressed concern about the nature of Spicer’s comments: “I do think we should take such guffaws seriously from people holding a position as serious as press secretary as the very nature of the job requires him to be both knowledgeable and basic and not-so-basic facts of history.”
Foster said, “While it is true that the job of any press secretary is to communicate the President’s agenda and interests in a way that manages opposition and encourages consent for an administration’s policies, one cannot use that position to rewrite history, or to misinform the public.”
The Washington Post also reported that the Trump administration have faced criticisms of anti-Semitism before – Trump’s choice of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist has been opposed by the Anti-Defamation League in that Bannon is the former leader of the anti-Semitist Breitbart news site.
In response to Trump’s anti-Semitic pattern, Foster said, “Sociologically speaking, I think there is no other way to look at the evidence other than to interpret Trump as a president who is willing to support white nationalist and anti-Semitic interests when they suit his economic and political agendas, despite the rare instances when he has said otherwise.”
“To the extent that folks in his administration also support their colleagues with old-school segregationist-style agendas, or overt and unapologetic repurposed white nationalist sentiments, platforms, and policy initiatives, then they, too, would be complicit,” said Foster.
Katie Serkus, a sophomore anthropology student said of Spicer’s comments, “I do believe that he is trying to explain the evilness behind the chemical attacks and why we should not just sit back and let such terrifying events happen.”
The briefing on April 11 is not the first time Spicer has made mistakes on facts or told untruths. In consideration of truth in Trump’s administration, Dr. Foster said, “The extent to which Trump and members of his administration brazenly make false statements to the people – whether it’s because they shamelessly ignore the basic mechanisms we teach middle school children about how to check your facts, or because they feel entitles to peddle outright lies with impunity – is truly chilling.”
While some believe that Spicer’s apology was genuine and therefore should be accepted, others, including Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, is calling for Spicer to be fired.
“Either Spicer is just not that bright and says outlandish things because he doesn’t know better, or he does know better and is engaging in an outrageous use of his position to manipulate public opinion,” Foster said. “Either way, we should absolutely be gravely concerned if we care about preserving a democracy.”