WASHINGTON — The White House is decrying the “unthinkable violence of MS-13’s animals” in Suffolk and Nassau, as President Donald Trump prepares to head to Long Island on Wednesday for a forum on the transnational gang.
In a lengthy statement on Monday titled, “What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals of MS-13,” the Trump administration described the gang’s deadly reach to a national audience, relying largely on anecdotes and figures from Long Island.
“New York communities have suffered tremendously from the abhorrent violence of MS-13,” the White House said in its release, which also cited cases of gang violence in Texas in Maryland but primarily focused on Long Island.
The statement was issued days after Trump faced criticism from some lawmakers and immigration activists for describing the gang members as “animals” during a roundtable discussion on immigration reform at the White House.
The next day, when he was asked to clarify his use of the word, Trump said he was referring solely to gang members entering the United States illegally. But critics argued his initial comments sounded as if they were meant to apply more broadly to illegal immigrants.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) who has been helping coordinate Wednesday’s event at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, said Trump’s comments had been taken out of context. He lauded the president for turning to Long Island to raise awareness about the gang, which has killed at least 25 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties since 2016, according to the authorities.
“They’re less than animals,” King said in a telephone interview. “Not even animals torture their own the way these MS-13 members do.”
The White House’s news release — which uses the word “animals” 10 times — notes that in “January 2017, MS-13 members were charged with killing and hacking up a teenager in Nassau County,” and in “April 2017, police believe four young men were brutally murdered by MS-13 animals on Long Island. One victim was a young man in town visiting family during an Easter week vacation.”
The release also notes that last month MS-13 “reportedly called for its members on Long Island to kill a cop for the sake of making a statement.”
Last month, Nassau police officials said they learned about two threats that called for the execution of law enforcement officers. The news prompted the department to issue a memo to officers advising them to take the threat seriously, not to wear their uniforms off duty, to carry their firearms at all times, and to consider different routes from those they normally travel.
Asked about the White House’s statement, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who is slated to participate in Wednesday’s MS-13 forum, said “violent crimes have considerably decreased” in the county as the department has worked to crack down on the gang’s presence. Last year violent crimes decreased by more than 8 percent in Suffolk, according to department figures.
“The Department consistently collaborates with all our law enforcement partners, many who are facing similar challenges when it comes to eradicating MS 13,” Hart said in a statement. “The Suffolk County Police Department is always willing to discuss and share best practices with additional agencies and jurisdictions.”
In Nassau, where violent crimes were down by 3.4 percent as of last December, according to agency figures, police department officials did not return a request for comment.
The president has often argued that the gang — whose members largely hail from Central America — highlights the need for stricter immigration enforcement laws.