No, "gas chamber" is not just a holocaust reference

Since I wound up wasting a fair bit of my morning arguing with hopelessly flailing anti-Trumpers on Twitter about this I suppose we may as well get it out of the way now. The latest ridiculous attempt by the media to portray the Trump campaign as a bunch of mouth breathing, dog whistle blowing Nazi sympathizers surfaced last night after Donald Trump Jr. made a comment about the protection Hillary Clinton receives in the press. The sin of sins this time was (and I’m not making this up) using the phrase “gas chamber.”

Here’s the coverage from the New York Times.

Donald Trump Jr. invoked Holocaust imagery when complaining about media favoritism given toward Hillary Clinton, arguing that if Republicans lied the way Democrats do, the press would be “warming up the gas chamber right now.”

The Trump campaign has been complaining aggressively that the mainstream media is working against the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, who has recently been giving most of his interviews to conservative outlets. In an interview with a Philadelphia radio station on Wednesday, the younger Mr. Trump said that the media has built up Mrs. Clinton and that it is her No. 1 surrogate.

Keep in mind that this is the news section of the Gray Lady, not an editorial. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

I’m still in shock that we have to have an argument about something this patently false. The number of people supporting this accusation when I countered it with a bit of history was staggering, though I did at least get a semi-reasonable response from Joe Scarborough after it came up on his show.

Do we really have to do this? The single item I was referencing as an example in my tweet to Scarborough was this headline from (wait for it…) the New York Times in 1992 following another botched execution of a convict in Arizona.


This isn’t some case where I had to struggle and dig through musty archives to find one instance of Americans using the term gas chamber to describe one of the more common methods of capital punishment employed in the United States for many, many decades. If you do a Google news search on the term for any time before 2000 you’ll get millions (and I mean literally millions) of hits. Sure, some of them are historical references to the Nazis, but those are generally accompanied by references to showers and other horrors of the holocaust. In the United States, as applied to executions, we called it the gas chamber and you all know it. In fact, we were using the gas chamber right up until 1999 when the last prisoner was put to death that way in Arizona.

Yes, that’s right. There is not a single person legally voting in this election who wasn’t born before we stopped using the gas chamber.

With the arguments currently taking place over the potentially cruel and unusual nature of lethal injections, several states are now talking about bringing back some of the older methods of execution. If we were to go back to shooting convicts you would call it the firing squad. If we were to use electrocution you would call it the electric chair. And if we used shown in the picture below you would not be calling it That Airtight Chamber Where They Strap You In A Chair And Drop Potassium Cyanide Tablets Into A Pan Of Sulfuric Acid Producing Hydrogen Cyanide Gas Which Then Kills You. You’d call it the gas chamber because that’s what we all called it, up to and including our elected officials and everyone in the media.

Donald Trump Jr. was making a hyperbolic reference to people receiving capital punishment. He could have said lining up the firing squad or firing up the electric chair. Both would be the same as saying, “gas chamber.” And each and every one of you knows it.

Stop. I’m asking you in all earnestness here. Please just stop. You’re making fools of yourselves.

Update (Ed): As I pointed out on Twitter yesterday when this first popped up, the use of the gas chamber to execute prisoners in the US predates the Nazi regime by almost a decade. It began in 1924. Five states still have the gas chamber as a secondary option to lethal injection, although as Jazz notes, it hasn’t been used since 1999: Arizona, California, Missouri, Wyoming, and Oklahoma. On top of that, the context in which Donald Trump Jr used this — as a retaliation to their opposition to the Clintons — makes it very clear that the context was the American death penalty and not the Holocaust. It might not have been the most elegant of metaphors, but it’s hardly an anti-Semitic reference.


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