Trump’s Allies Are Weaponizing Anti-Immigrant Sentiment for Their Benefit… Again

NSC Director for European Affairs Vindman arrives at House impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill in Washington
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives to testify as part of the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army vet who served our country in Iraq, has been on the receiving end of anti-immigrant sentiment for bravely speaking out against President Trump’s potentially impeachable conduct in office. Ever since issuing damning testimony to Congress regarding the President’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Vindman’s loyalty to the United States has been called into question based on the otherwise unrelated fact that he was born in Ukraine.

Notoriously offensive Fox News host Laura Ingraham loosely suggested on her show earlier this week that Vindman was working against the President as some sort of Ukrainian spy, something that has been echoed by other pro-Trump, conservative pundits looking to attack the veteran’s credibility. Sean Duffy, a CNN contributor, told host John Berman that Vindman was perhaps not American enough to overcome his ethnic origins, based on the fact that he is bilingual and was born in another country. “He has an affinity, I think, for the Ukraine. He speaks Ukrainian, he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.”

Vindman immigrated to the country when he was a toddler, and along with his family, was naturalized as a US citizen. That should be enough to be considered “American enough,” though Vindman also embodies the traditional qualities of a patriot through his military service and now through his stepping forward to refute the White House’s account of the call with Ukraine. In his own words, the retired war vet explained, “I have a deep appreciation for American values and ideals and the power of freedom. I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics.”

However, by emphasizing Vindman’s identity as an immigrant — a *gasp* bilingual one, at that — Trump’s allies are attempting to call into question the soldier’s Americanness as a desperate attempt to cast the impeachment process as illegitimate (at least to his base). “If that’s all they’ve got, is to question the patriotism of a lieutenant colonel who took a bullet for us and has a Purple Heart on the battlefield, well, good luck to them,” commented Rep. Ron Kindof Wisconsin.

The attacks against VIndman are more than just offensive, bizarre, and desperate though. They’re also a reminder of how anti-immigrant sentiment is systematically wielded to maintain power, and we’d do well to remember how this line of attack has played out in history. Lev Golinkin, a contributor to NBC News, pointed out the specifically anti-Semitic nature of the attacks against Vindman, describing the dangerous suggestion of “dual loyalty.” “For centuries, anti-Semites and demagogues have accused Jews of secretly plotting against the very nations they live into stoke paranoia and justify persecution,” wrote Golinkin who, like Vindman, came to America as a child fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in the former Soviet Union. He added, “Indeed, the disloyalty smear was fundamental to Nazis’ demonization of Jews as enemies of Germany in the prelude to the Holocaust.”

Trump has already branded Vindman a “Never Trumper,” but it’s only a matter of time before he tries to deny Vindman’s loyalty to the United States on the basis of his place of birth. We already know that he is not above attacking veterans — he’s done it several times in the past — and he certainly is not above weaponizing xenophobia to maintain control. Remember when, six months into his presidency, he put forth the blatantly Islamophobic and false idea that Ghazala Khan, Gold Star mother of fallen solider US Army Captain Humayun Khan, wasn’t allowed to speak at a public event because she was living in accordance with Islam? Trump was more than willing to stoke the fear of “the other,” “the invader,” in order to justify his Muslim ban.

Unless we learn to recognize the lessons that history has to offer us, we’re going to witness white supremacists, nationalists, and fear mongers weaponizing hate, again and again, to advance their agendas for power. When even a well-respected Purple Heart recipient like Vindman is subject to these attacks, the rest of us need to stay vigilant to protect the most vulnerable among us.