'Enemies of the people': Trump remark echoes history's worst tyrants

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Trump's remark drew comparisons with dictators Stalin and Mao

At a different time, in another country, it was effectively a death sentence.

Being branded an "enemy of the people" by the likes of Stalin or Mao brought at best suspicion and stigma, at worst hard labour or death.

Now the chilling phrase - which is at least as old as Emperor Nero, who was called "hostis publicus", enemy of the public, by the Senate in AD 68 - is making something of a comeback.

In November, the UK Daily Mail used its entire front page to brand three judges enemies of the people after they made a ruling on the Brexit process.

Now the US president, Donald Trump, has deployed the epithet against mainstream US media outlets that he sees as hostile.

"The FAKE media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" the president wrote on Twitter.

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The reaction was swift. "Every president is irritated by the news media. No other president would have described the media as 'the enemy of the people'", tweeted David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.

Steve Silberman, an award-winning writer and journalist, wondered whether the remark would prompt Trump supporters to shoot at journalists.

And that might not be a far-fetched concern. Late last year, a Trump supporter opened fire in a pizza restaurant at the centre of a bizarre conspiracy theory about child abuse.

Mr Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy have led to comparisons, from some quarters, with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

His use of "enemies of the people" raises unavoidable comparisons with other murderous dictators.

Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, out-of-favour artists and politicians were designated enemies and many were sent to hard labour camps or killed. Others were stigmatised and denied access to education and employment.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Mr Trump's remark followed a bizarre and erratic press conference

And Chairman Mao, the leader of China who presided over the deaths of millions of people in a famine brought about by his Great Leap Forward, was also known to use the phrase against anyone who opposed him, with terrible consequences.

"Charming that our uneducated President manages to channel the words of Stalin and fails to hear the historical resonance of this phrase," tweeted Mitchell Orenstein, a professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr Trump is not the first US president or politician to have an antagonistic relationship with the media, and Richard Nixon is known to have privately referred to the press as "the enemy". But the president's latest broadside, with all its attendant historical echoes, is unprecedented.

BBC

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