At a rally in May, President Trump laughed when a supporter suggested shooting migrants to prevent them from crossing the Southern border. “That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement,” the president said to a cheering audience in Panama City Beach, Florida.
On Tuesday, we also learned you can get away with it in the White House. According to an excerpt published in the New York Times from the new book Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, Trump suggested to aides that soldiers shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down, before being told it was illegal, just as he’d been told it was illegal to shoot migrants throwing rocks, as he suggested publicly last November.
That’s not all.
Trump also proposed digging a water-filled moat and stocking it with snakes and alligators. If he was kidding, his aides didn’t think so, as they sought a cost estimate for the cartoonishly ludicrous proposal. Trump also wanted the wall to be electrified, and topped with spikes that could “pierce human flesh.”
This all took place, according to the book, in a March meeting during which the president also ordered the entire 2,000-mile border to be shut down completely by noon the following day. That didn’t happen, but the bout of panic about migrants crossing the border led to “the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.”
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Trump indulging his inner Wile E. Coyote when it comes to fortifying the border wall. During a trip to San Diego last month, the president regaled reporters with the specifications of “a wall the likes of which very few places have ever seen.” You won’t be able to cut through it with a blowtorch, he explained, and it will be so hot that you’ll be able to “fry an egg” on it. He also claimed that the government contracted 20 “champion” mountain climbers to test wall prototypes, although no one has been able to turn up any evidence this actually happened.
Earlier reports have noted that Trump has demanded the wall be as tall as possible, topped with spikes, and painted black, despite warnings about how much such cosmetic flourishes could drive up the cost.
In reality, the border is already plenty dangerous, as was recently detailed in Jason Motlagh’s piece for Rolling Stone, “The Deadliest Crossing,” about migrants crossing the border through a perilous stretch of Arizona desert. “In his wildest dreams, Donald Trump could not build a wall more effective than the Sonoran Desert — 100,000 square miles of rugged mountain ranges and wide, bone-dry valleys,” Motlagh writes before pointing out that close to 9,000 people are estimated to have died crossing the border there since 1990, and that the actual number is likely far higher.
Motlagh notes that creating a dangerous border goes back to the Clinton administration’s “Prevention Through Deterrence” strategy, and lawmakers from both parties have since voted in favor of measures that increase the likelihood migrants will suffer, if not die, attempting to cross it.
As far as we know, Trump is the first elected representative to float a border deterrence measure that involves live snakes.