White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his people in the same way Syria did in a recent gas attack on its Idlib province that killed more than 80 people, including children.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” said Spicer during his regular press briefing, addressing a question on the relationship between Russia and Syria. “You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
When asked to clarify that statement later in the briefing, Spicer expanded his response and the comparison to Hitler, causing an immediate burst of criticism on social media.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad was doing,” said Spicer. “There was not — he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that — but I’m saying in the way [Syrian President Bashar Assad] used them, where he went into towns, to innocents, into the middle of towns. The use of it, I appreciate the clarification there, that was not the intent.”
Spicer clarified his comments in a statement to NBC News immediately following the briefing, at which time his name was a trending topic on Twitter due to the volume of posts on his remarks.
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. However, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people,” Spicer said.
The White House then issued another clarification shortly thereafter amending the final line: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.”
Minutes after that clarification, another version was issued to the White House press pool affirming that Holocaust victims were also innocent: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
The Nazis killed over 3 million people in their concentration camps, primarily using chemically manufactured carbon monoxide and Zyklon B, a cyanide-based pesticide. President Trump cited the attack on Syria as the catalyst for his ordering the United States military to fire 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
Late Tuesday afternoon House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called for Spicer to be fired and for Trump to disavow his statements.
“While Jewish families across America celebrate Passover,” said Pelosi, “the chief spokesman of this White House is downplaying the horror of the Holocaust. Sean Spicer must be fired, and the President must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements. Either he is speaking for the President, or the President should have known better than to hire him.”
As evening fell, Spicer appeared on CNN to attempt one final clarification.
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas,” the press secretary said, “but frankly I mistakenly used an inappropriate, insensitive reference to the holocaust, for which frankly there is no comparison, and for that I apologize.”
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