Downward Spiral

It Took America 72 Hours to Invoke Internment Camps for Syrian Refugees

In just three days, the rhetoric over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States has devolved from caution to mutterings about internment camps in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

11.19.15 12:12 AM ET

Over the past 72 hours, we’ve watched the rhetoric surrounding the resettling of Syrian refugees in the United States go from cautious calls for stricter screening to suggestions that state troops round up and remove asylum seekers.

After ISIS claimed responsibility for Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, some American lawmakers began requesting stricter screening of the roughly 10,000 Syrian refugees President Obama has agreed to resettle in the United States. Others devolved into breathless fear-mongering.

Since Monday, 26 governors have said they would refuse to accept refugees, seizing upon now debunked reports that one of the Paris assailants came from Syria as a refugee. (The governors can thump their chests all they like, but the final call rests with the U.S. State Department.)

While most of the state executives’ statements on the matter expressed a desire to learn more about the screening processes, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took it a step further, telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt he wouldn’t even allow orphan toddlers into his state.

Fellow Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee even brought the weather into it, telling Fox News that allowing Middle Eastern refugees in would be dangerous because they’d have trouble adapting to cold weather.

“We would be bringing people in who lived in the desert their entire lives, and they would be completely disrupted,” he said. “Can you imagine bringing in a bunch of Syrian refugees who’ve lived in the desert their whole lives that are suddenly thrown into an English-speaking community? Where it’s maybe in Minnesota, where it is 20 degrees below zero? I mean just I don’t understand what we possibly can be thinking.”

The former governor’s concern-trolling appears to be unfounded: Minnesota is one of the most popular destinations for refugees from many countries with warmer climates.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter was quick to cut an ad for his gubernatorial campaign using Paris attack footage to suggest Obama was directly importing terrorists to Louisiana. Donald Trump said the U.S. should consider closing American mosques. And multiple Republican candidates agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz’s call for a religious litmus test that would bar devout Muslim refugees from entering the United States.

Media personalities haven’t exactly been helpful, either, with three star personalities on the Fox Business Network comparing Islam to rabies.

And on Wednesday, the rhetoric devolved even further.

The chairman of Tennessee’s House Republican caucus, Glen Casada, told reporters he wants the National Guard to round up and kick out the 30 Syrian refugees now living in the Volunteer State. “We need to gather up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours,’” he said.

As of Wednesday, no Syrians, refugee or otherwise, have been accused of helping ISIS in the United States.

No matter—Casada compared himself to American revolutionary icon Paul Revere. “I’m just sounding the alarm,” he said. ​“I am calling for civil disobedience in order to protect the lives and property of Tennesseans.”

“Why do you want Tennesseans to die?” he asked of his critics. “The blood of innocent people is on their head.”

Hours later, after Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared his state open to refugees, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke took matters into his own hands and called upon all local government agencies to cease assisting any Syrian refugee resettlement efforts.

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Mayor David Bowers’s intellectual guidance for such a move? The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” he said, “and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

One can only guess where we’ll go next in the race to the rhetorical bottom.

CORRECTION, Nov. 18, 2015, 9:28 p.m.: A previous version of this article referred to David Bowers as an independent; he is a Democrat.