As the US deports a 95-year-old Nazi camp guard, neo-Nazi groups flourish

Jakiw Pali, Nazi camp guard, deported by ICE.
Jakiw Pali, Nazi camp guard, deported by ICE.
Image: ABC via AP
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The US has deported Jakiw Palij, a former Nazi Germany prison guard who had been living in the US for nearly 70 years.

Palij, an American citizen since the 1950s, had been stripped of his status in 2003, when his cover-up of his history was discovered by US immigration officials. Since then, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been trying to deport him to Germany, which would not take him because he was originally a Ukrainian citizen.

Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, told reporters today (Aug. 21) he’d convinced German officials to take Palij, 95, by making a “moral argument about the fact that this individual served in the name of the former German government.”

Palij was taken out of his home in New York City on a stretcher, under the watch of TV cameras. He is unlikely to be tried in Germany, as an investigation there earlier this year found no evidence of his having participated directly in killing any of the thousands of prisoners who died at the camp where he served.

The deportation comes as the Trump administration tries to burnish the image of ICE in the wake of a brutal family separation policy that has left hundreds of children in US custody without their parents. The White House, celebrating the action against Palij, said it was sending a “strong message” that the US “will not tolerate those who facilitated Nazi crimes and other human rights violations, and they will not find a safe haven on American soil.”

The White House’s stated support of human rights, and pressure on Germany to take “moral responsibility” stands in marked contrast to some of the administration’s recent actions in response to the rise of white nationalism in the US.

Trump—who has repeatedly been accused of racism, most recently by former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman—refused to condemn supremacists’ actions after the Charlottesville attack of 2017, and his immigration policies have links to earlier white supremacist-backed anti-immigrant movements in America. (Today, Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise admitted speaking at a white supremacist rally.) Stoking racially-charged divisions in the US is part of Trump’s strategy on the campaign trail ahead of the 2018 midterms.

There were 100 white nationalist groups active in the United States in 2017, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and dozens of chapters of neo-Nazi groups including Georgia’s “Aryan Nations Worldwide” and several state chapters of “Vanguard America,” whose members include James Alex Fields, who has been charged in the killing of a counter-protester during Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally.

Neo-Nazi groups are growing faster than all other white-supremacy groups in America, the SPLC said. They increased by 22% in 2017, to 101.

The Department of Justice plays some role in combatting these groups, and the Department of Homeland Security, which is also supposed to monitor “homegrown extremists,” has cut some funding for anti-hate groups as it focuses on kicking undocumented people out of the country.