The day after a survivor of a 2013 chemical attack in Syria said in a Fox News interview that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “worse than” Adolf Hitler, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed to parrot the claim when he compared Assad to Hitler, falsely adding that Hitler did not use chemical weapons. Spicer’s comments also echo those made by a Fox analyst in 2013 on fringe website World Net Daily (WND). But it is universally accepted that the Nazis under Hitler did in fact use chemical weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and Spicer’s gaffe is yet another example of the Trump administration internalizing talking points heard on Fox News.
Spicer Suggested Assad Worse Than Hitler Because Hitler Never Used Chemical Weapons
Spicer: “Someone As Despicable As Adolf Hitler ... Didn’t Even Sink To Using Chemical Weapons.” During his April 11 White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler and claimed that the Nazis didn’t use chemical weapons, saying, “You had a -- someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” From the April 11 briefing:
JON DECKER: The alliance between Russia and Syria is a strong one -- it goes back decades. President Putin has supplied personnel, he’s supplied military equipment to the Assad government. What makes you think that, at this point, he's going to pull back his support for President Assad and for the Syrian government right now?
SEAN SPICER: I think a couple things. You look -- we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a -- someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. [CNN, Wolf, 4/11/17]
Spicer: Hitler Was “Not Using The Gas … The Same Way” As Assad And “I Was Trying To Draw A Distinction” Between Using Gas Chambers And Airplanes. CNN reported that Spicer said, “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Spicer added that he ”was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.” From the April 12 report:
Spicer, asked later in the briefing for a clarification by a reporter about the comments that Hitler did not use chemical weapons, said: “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”
Reporters in the briefing room offered the Holocaust as an example of chemical weapons use.
“He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that,” Spicer said.
“But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns and dropped them down to innocent in the middle of towns,” he added, defending his statement. “I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent.”
The comment did not clear up the controversy, especially considering Spicer seemingly referred to concentration camps as “the Holocaust center.”
In a statement issued after the briefing, Spicer said “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,” he said. [CNN.com, 4/12/17]
Hitler Used Carbon Monoxide Gas To Kill Hundreds Of Thousands Of People
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: The Nazis Used Carbon Monoxide Gas To Kill Hundreds Of Thousands Of People. The Holocaust Encyclopedia, a resource curated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, documents that the Nazis “began experimenting with poison gas for the purpose of mass murder” as early as 1939. The encyclopedia notes that the Nazis used the gas to kill “hundreds of thousands of people.” From the Holocaust Encyclopedia (boldface original):
The Nazis began experimenting with poison gas for the purpose of mass murder in late 1939 with the killing of patients with mental and physical disabilities (in the Euthanasia Program).
A Nazi euphemism, “euthanasia” referred to the systematic killing of those Germans whom the Nazis deemed “unworthy of life” because of mental illness or physical disability.
Six gassing installations were established as part of the Euthanasia Program: Bernburg, Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim, and Sonnenstein. These killing centers used pure, chemically manufactured carbon monoxide gas.
After the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing unit) mass shootings of civilians, the Nazis experimented with gas vans for mass killing. Gas vans were hermetically sealed trucks with engine exhaust diverted to the interior compartment. Use of gas vans began after Einsatzgruppe members complained of battle fatigue and mental anguish caused by shooting large numbers of women and children. Gassing also proved to be less costly. Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) gassed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and mentally ill people. [United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accessed 4/11/17]
Comparison Between Hitler And Assad Was Previously Made During A Fox News Interview And Spread By Right-Wing Media
Kassem Eid: “Who Can Be Worse Than [Assad]? He’s Worse Than Hitler.” On Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto, Kassem Eid, a Syrian survivor of a 2013 chemical attack, told host Neil Cavuto that concerns that “whoever replaces Assad could be even worse” are “pure hypocrisy.” Eid continued, “Who can be worse than him? He's worse than Hitler. Who is going to be worse than him?” From the April 10 interview:
NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): Some in this country have problems with regime change, as you know, and they worry that whoever replaces Assad could be even worse than Assad. What do you think of that?
KASSEM EID: Sir, with all due respect, this is pure hypocrisy. How can you say that whoever is going to replace Assad is going to be worse? Assad killed 500,000 people, for the love of God. He displaced half of the country. He destroyed the country. He gassed women and children. Who can be worse than him? He's worse than Hitler. Who is going to be worse than him? [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 4/10/17]
Newsmax: “Syrian Chemical Attack Survivor Calls Assad 'Worse Than Hitler.'” Right-wing news website Newsmax highlighted Cavuto’s interview with Eid with the headline “Syrian Chemical Attack Survivor Calls Assad 'Worse Than Hitler.'” [Newsmax, 4/10/17]
CNN’s Kirsten Powers: There Was A Story On Newsmax Headlined “Assad Is Worse Than Hitler,” And “Everyone In The White House Looks At Newsmax." CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers pointed out that “22 hours ago, there was a story on Newsmax in which the headline was ‘Assad Is Worse Than Hitler,’ according to a man who survived chemical attack Syria. And I think we know that everyone in the White House looks at Newsmax.” From the April 11 edition of Anderson Cooper 360:
KIRSTEN POWERS: To be fair, I think a lot of people who haven't worked on the Hill and haven't had all those jobs actually know that they wouldn't have said what he said today about Hitler and Assad, making that comparison.
This one in particular, saying even Hitler didn't -- it's just, it just isn't something you need to have worked in all those places to know not to say. And a positive theory here, 22 hours a day -- 22 hours ago, there was a story on Newsmax with the headline was “Assad Is Worse Than Hitler,” according to a man who survived a chemical attack in Syria. And I think we know that everyone in the White House looks at Newsmax. I mean this is something that they look at and somehow he must have seen this or heard it.
ANDERSON COOPER (HOST): Which I believe actually came from an interview on Fox.
POWERS: Came from an interview from Fox, but which then just raises all sorts of questions still why there isn't more of an understanding, historical understanding, that this probably isn't a great analogy and then to bring in the chemical weapons aspect of it. [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 4/11/17]
The Claim That “Assad Is Worse Than Hitler” Has Been Hyped By Right-Wing Media Since 2013
Paul Vallely In WND: “Assad Is Worse Than Hitler In Many Ways, And They Did Nothing About Hitler Until It Was Too Late And Millions Were Killed.” In an interview with right-wing fringe media outlet WorldNetDaily (WND), U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a former Fox military analyst and conservative commentator, claimed that “Assad is worse than Hitler in many ways, and they did nothing about Hitler until it was too late and millions were killed.” Vallely continued, “It’s the same thing with Assad. Over 60,000 killed now in Syria.” From WorldNetDaily:
Vallely told WND Assad is using the threat of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction as a last resort, but he said there is compelling evidence some of those weapons have already been deployed.
“He’s already used chlorine gas to an extent, and phosphate,” he said. “We have videotape of children being hit with the phosphate chemicals and the severe burns.”
Vallely said Assad has many more horrific weapons at his disposal.
“We know that he has sarin gas. We know he has [weapons of mass destruction]. Much of it was transferred from Iraq in 2003 to several sites in Syria,” Vallely said. “He’s already used helicopters to spray chlorine gas. That has come from the validation from the Free Syrian Army commanders on the ground whom I met with just six weeks ago.”
“Assad is worse than Hitler in many ways, and they did nothing about Hitler until it was too late and millions were killed,” said Vallely. “It’s the same thing with Assad. Over 60,000 killed now in Syria.” [WorldNetDaily, 1/10/13]