By David Brennan
A defense analyst and genocide expert has published a warning about the direction of American society and politics in the age of President Donald Trump, identifying characteristics that may one day facilitate atrocities against minority groups.
Brynn Tannehill—a former naval aviator who is now an academic and trans rights activist—posted a Twitter thread on Thursday setting out the early genocide warning signs, noting that the U.S. was still some way from catastrophe but that the nation’s direction is deeply concerning.
“I am very, very worried,” Tannehill wrote. “I am not saying it will definitely happen, but the necessary conditions are there, and many of the precursor events are in motion… My spouse and our kids are Canadian. We’re laying the groundwork to go back there in 2021, even if I don’t have a job waiting.”
There are “common themes and patterns” in genocidal societies, Tannehill said, many of which are not generally prevalent in the U.S. She noted that for the most part such atrocities occur in economically struggling nations where living standards are falling.
Politically though, Tannehill noted the U.S. trend towards divisive rhetoric and policies under President Donald Trump, who has been repeatedly accused of various forms of racism and has pursued a nativist agenda.
“The politicians enacting it are populists who benefit from stirring Us vs. Them narratives, placing blame for the woes of the nation on others who are somehow less worthy,” she wrote. “They yearn for a mythological past [without] these people. It’s a highly viable tactic for shoring up support.”
The undesirables are smeared in a variety of ways, whether labeled criminals, sex offenders, threats to women and children or “generally unworthy of empathy,” Tannehill continued. Anyone who defends such groups is then demonized.
Propaganda further vilifies a target group, dehumanizing them and enabling “public safety measures” such as removing them from government jobs and revoking security clearances, Tannehill said.
A government might also start publishing statistics detailing the crimes committed by the target group while failing to prosecute—or pardoning—those who commit crimes against the minority.
This also requires a government to co-opt the courts and ensure they will not stand in its way. With a minority already excluded from government and security roles, it is easier to then block them from the education system, job market and even deny them healthcare.
“You can create vast zones where the minority is forbidden from public life,” Tannehill said. “Make them carry/wear IDs identifying them as ‘other’…If this sounds familiar, the Germans modeled their 1930’s laws on those used to keep the US South segregated.”
Court support will then allow the revocation of basic civil rights, further facilitating harassment, forced disappearances and eventually mass murder.
Tannehill identified two characteristics that are the final—and most concerning—warnings for a society nearing genocide. The first is when members of the persecuted minority “voluntarily pack up and leave the country, or actively hide who they are.
“This is the beginnings of cultural genocide: the minority disappears from the culture because they have either left, or have gone underground,” Tannehill explained.
“Whether it’s acts of military aggression, bellicose leaders, assassinating journalists, putting foreign nationals in filthy over crowded camps that are black holes; the country on the verge of genocide is looking to see if they can provoke a reaction,” she said. “It almost never comes.”
More often than not, other nations stand by and allow the genocide to occur. “In part, because the groups targeted are ones that other countries simply don’t care about either,” Tannehill explained.
“Jews, Tutsis, gays, Roma, South Sudanese, the disabled, mentally ill, poverty stricken immigrants; they historically aren’t worth starting a fight over.”
Once the government knows it has impunity “they move to planning on how to get rid of the targeted population.” At this point, the method is irrelevant, Tannehill wrote.
“It’s way too late to do anything by this point, and that it doesn’t follow a pattern. Sometimes it’s camps and neglect. Guns. Machetes. Killing fields. Death marches. Sometimes it’s all of the above.”
Once minority groups are fleeing and a government is testing international response, Tannehill said “it’s probably already too late. I can’t think of a time the world cut off a genocide at the pass, and global sentiment against refugees…means few escape.”
“Are you worried yet? You probably should be,” she concluded.