Former U.S. president Donald Trump delivers remarks at the America First Agenda Summit in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 2022.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump delivers remarks at the America First Agenda Summit in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 2022. Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Trump Wants Concentration Camps and Presidential Control of Domestic Troops

The disgraced former president said the next chief executive should take control of the National Guard from state governors and deploy troops to quell cities.

Donald Trump just said he wants to build concentration camps in America and assume direct control over the National Guard in a way that sounds a lot like the Nazi SS force.

I can attest that those items were not on bingo cards at last week’s Aspen Security Conference, a four-day gathering of the nation’s top security-policy professionals and practitioners. But at the summer’s most important gathering of far-rightists, Trump on Tuesday attacked “weak mayors and powerful governors” who have resisted using National Guard troops and harsh, sometimes unconstitutional tactics to quell violence in American cities. In a rambling speech reminiscent of his 2017 inaugural address in its dark depiction of American city life, Trump described the country as “a cesspool of crime” and argued that a president should usurp governors and order their state-run military forces into American cities to enforce order, if not law. 

"The federal government can and should send the National Guard to restore order and secure the peace without having to wait for the approval of some governor that thinks it's politically incorrect to call them in,” Trump said at the America First Policy Institute summit in Washington, D.C. “When governors refuse to protect their people, we need to bring in what’s necessary anyway. We need to go beyond the governor.” 

The audience wildly applauded this rejection of states’ rights, long a conservative tenet, and of the U.S. Constitution. 

Trump also said authorities should round up America’s homeless population—roughly half a million people—and incarcerate them in camps built on cheap land far from major U.S. cities. This, he argued, would hide an American embarrassment from visiting foreign leaders and motivate the homeless to stop being homeless.

Most Defense One readers probably don’t watch Trump’s speeches regularly anymore because most Americans don’t. He draws a fraction of the crowds he once did at his rallies, the political candidates he endorses are frequently losing, and the editorial boards of the nation’s most important conservative newspapers—Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and New York Posthave turned against him. But military and national-security leaders should still be paying attention to the once and possibly future president, particularly to learn how the right wing puts national security and military issues to political use. 

High atop the current list of right-wing talking points is crime in America’s cities, particularly ones governed by Democrats. Conservatives link the issue to everything from illegal immigration and border security to stricter gun control, law-enforcement spending cuts, and the refusal to employ National Guard troops. Some blame city crime on Democrats who want to help Ukraine fight Russia on the far edge of Europe instead of admitting trouble in their districts at home. 

Since at least the 2016 presidential election, conservatives have pointed to crime rates in Chicago as evidence that Democratic and minority leaders there are purposefully soft on crime and are wrong in their refusals to deploy the National Guard or using controversial policing methods like stop-and-frisk. Republicans also say that in other cities where Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 turned riotous—sometimes through instigation by white supremacists—more Democratic governors should have sent in their Guard troops, as Trump did, controversially in Washington, D.C.

So, on Tuesday, in a speech meant for the ears of Republican primary voters, Trump said the next American president should send the National Guard to Chicago. That would require, at minimum, invoking the Insurrection Act, which is supposed to be reserved for natural disaster or civil violence “to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.” But it also would ignore the Illinois governor, the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, and the advice of top National Guard generals who strongly resist federalization. (We’ve been through this debate before.) 

And that’s how extreme partisan politics could change the U.S. military forever, if Americans want. 

“This cannot go on anymore,” Trump said. “Every other approach has been considerably tried, and they tried the weak approach, they’ve been trying it for years... It’s not working. It’s time to go a different direction. And only one option remains. The next president needs to send the National Guard to the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago until safety can be restored.”

The troops would be mobilized not just against criminals and disturbers of the peace, but against homeless and mentally unstable people, he said. 

“We have to take back our streets and public spaces from the homeless, the drug addicted, and the dangerously deranged. What’s happened to our cities?” he said. “We’re living in such a different country for one primary reason: there is no longer respect for the law and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime.”  

And who is to blame? Not the pandemic, which closed many homeless shelters and housing, or a nationwide housing shortage stoked by income inequality and local zoning policies. No; “We have blood, death, and suffering on a scale once unthinkable because of the Democrat [sic] Party’s effort to destroy and dismantle law enforcement all throughout America. It has to stop, and it has to stop now.”

Then Trump said he would create a crime-free society. 

“We believe that every citizen of every background should be able to walk anywhere in this nation at any hour of the day without even the thought of being victimized by violent crime,” he said. To build this utopia, America’s leaders must “be tough and be nasty and be mean, if we have to.”

The crowd’s applause swelled.  

Trump reiterated a debunked claim that he broke up encampments in Washington when he was in the White House; he lamented seeing them as he returned this week. He called them an embarrassment, especially when foreign leaders visit. “It leaves such a bad impression. They go home and say, ‘What kind of country has the United States turned into?’”

His response: make the homeless disappear.

“Perhaps some people will not like hearing this, but the only way you’re going to remove the hundreds of thousands of people, and maybe throughout our nation millions of people, open up large parcels of inexpensive land in the outer reaches of the cities, bring in medical professionals…build permanent bathrooms and other facilities, make ‘em good, make ‘em hard, but build them fast, and build thousands and thousands of high-quality tents, which can be done in one day. One day. You have to move people out.” 

People cheered.

“Some people say, ‘Well, that’s horrible,’ but no, what’s horrible is what’s happening now,” he said. 

Trump said it would help drive “the ambition of these people” to not be homeless. “I want to save our cities.” 

He may want to, but at a cost that military and security professionals should consider and talk more about. Each passing day, Trump seems less likely to win the Republican primary, much less the presidency, without the support of Murdoch’s newspapers or GOP donors. But Trumpism’s authoritarian views of federal power, use of troops, and law enforcement most certainly will live on, whether in the Republicans’ expected retaking of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections, or in the 2024 primary for the presidency.

It’s not just control of the House that’s on the ballot; it’s control of the U.S. military.