The Current Stage of Genocide in the U.S.

The political scientist Gregory Stanton has studied numerous genocides throughout history, and noticed they all followed similar patterns. They all develop in common ways, although aimed at different groups. After thorough analysis, Stanton has developed 10 stages through which all genocides seem to proceed:

  1. Classification
  2. Symbolization
  3. Discrimination
  4. Dehumanization
  5. Organization
  6. Polarization
  7. Preparation
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial

Every country–every society–across the world is currently in one of these stages (although there may be a few countries that might fall at stage “zero” on this list due to high levels of inclusivity/equality).

I believe the United States is currently in the “persecution” stage of genocide (Stage 8).

Stage 1: Classification

In this stage, the society groups their members into “us versus them”. Minority groups are identified by race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, or another category.  Stanton points out that societies in which these groups do not intermix often are at higher risk of genocide.

Members of out-groups are seen as not being full members of the predominant culture.

Current out-groups in the United States include:

  • Immigrants (predominantly Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central/South America), although Americans have a long history of blaming immigrants for internal problems and have fought to keep them out.
  • African Americans
  • LGBTQ individuals
  • Religious minorities (Muslims, Jews)

How to minimize classification:

  • Recognize commonalities between groups rather than focus on differences. Mutual respect and understanding is key, rather than fearing the unknown or unfamiliar.

Stage 2: Symbolization

Members of “out-groups” are identified by pejorative language, symbols and other methods.

Current methods of symbolization against groups in the United States:

How to minimize symbolization:

  • Public outcry against hate speech and hate symbols is vital, particularly among members of the majority group. Laws can be enacted making these symbols illegal, but this may tread on free speech and should be used cautiously.
  • Some groups have successfully “reclaimed” slurs and thus taken their power (such as the word “queer” has been reappropriated by the LGBTQ community).

Stage 3: Discrimination

Groups are frequently discriminated against with regard to employment, salaries, housing, transportation, and numerous other issues because of their group membership. The United States has been solidly in the discrimination stage of genocide with regard to nearly every minority group living in the country.

Current evidence of discrimination in the United States:

  • There have been a multitude of studies demonstrating racial bias, gender bias, and bias based on gender/sexuality in the academic literature.
  • Discrimination can also take the form of denial of service. Recent examples include denial of service to LGBT individuals (recently upheld as legal in Colorado).

How to minimize discrimination:

  • Put legal protections in place for members of minority groups to ensure equal treatment.

Stage 4: Dehumanization

Members of the group are thought of as animals and treated as such. This facilitates extermination later, as it helps people to overcome the natural human revulsion against murder. The use of propaganda begins in this stage to vilify and dehumanize minority group members.

Current evidence of dehumanization in the United States:

  • Immigrants: The President of the United States has referred to immigrants on several occasions as “animals,” and more recently has stated that immigrants are “infesting” our country.  The current policy of the White House is “catch and release,” a term used in fishing and hunting animals.

How to minimize dehumanization

  • Leaders need to be reminded of the humanity of members of the out-group. Imagery can be a powerful tool at this stage. Examples: “Migrant: Human Being. Citizen: Human Being with a Piece of Paper.”
  • Propaganda needs to be countered with facts–the challenge at this stage is that individuals who believe propaganda are not likely to be swayed with evidence.

Stage 5: Organization

The government starts to organize against minority groups. This frequently takes the form of state support of civilian militias (the Janjaweed in Sudan, for example) so that the government can deny responsibility after the fact.

Current evidence of organization in the United States:

  • Preparation to build a wall on our border with Mexico, even though there is little evidence that Mexican immigrants bring crime into the United States or that Mexican immigrants are more criminal than Americans.


Stage 6: Polarization

The state uses propaganda to polarize the society and gain support for its exclusionary policies. Misinformation and lies are broadcast by the state (frequently on state-owned media), and moderates calling for peace/rationality are removed or forced out. Fear mongering is a common tactic at this stage to increase support for severe measures against out-groups.

Current evidence of polarization in the United States:

  • Misinformation is frequently used by the Trump administration to support its policies.

Stage 7: Preparation

The state begins acting against the out-groups, typically by passing laws outlawing their existence or their geographic freedom. Fear of the victim group continues to be used over state media.

Current evidence of preparation in the United States:

  • Construction of “camps” to hold immigrants that include cages (or as supporters of these policies prefer to call them, “chain-link partitions”).

Stage 8: Persecution

Members of the out-group are separated from the rest of society and incarcerated or placed into camps.

Current evidence of persecution in the United States:

  • In my opinion, it is difficult to argue that holding individuals who have immigrated illegally is a form of persecution; however, removing children from parents while their cases are heard (which can take weeks or months) would seem to be.

Stage 9: Extermination

Members of the out-group are executed and murdered. Thanks to prior dehumanization, this has been facilitated by the belief (by the in-group) that minority group members are no longer human. It is “extermination” rather than “murder” because it is akin to killing an insect or euthanizing an animal.

Warning signs of impending extermination in the United States:

  • Clear extermination would begin if government agents start shooting people at the border.
  • Because civilian militias are often used in in genocide, Americans should watch for reports of killings of immigrants by civilians in border areas (some civilian militias patrol the border and are armed: 2014). This may also occur if there is an increase in killings of Latinos in general, as many people biased against immigrants are also biased against minorities and conflate the two.

Stage 10: Denial

This is always the final stage of genocide, in which leaders deny that (1) anyone has been killed, (2) lies are being spread about killings, or (3) the victims deserved their fate. Evidence is destroyed, “outside forces” are blamed.

In reality, denial occurs throughout the entire genocidal process, but ramps into overdrive after the killings have ended.


Published by christinadejong

I am an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. My areas of research focus generally on gender and justice, as well as genocide and violence in conflict.

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