A prominent supporter of Donald J. Trump set off concern and condemnation on behalf of Muslims on Wednesday after citing World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as a “precedent” for an immigrant registry suggested by a member of the president-elect’s transition team.
The supporter, Carl Higbie, a former spokesman for Great America PAC, an independent fund-raising committee, made the comments in an appearance on “The Kelly File” on Fox News.
He was referring to a suggestion by Kris Kobach, a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team, that the new administration could reinstate a national registry for immigrants from countries where terrorist groups were active.
The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.
“We’ve done it based on race, we’ve done it based on religion, we’ve done it based on region,” Mr. Higbie said. “We’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese.”
“You’re not proposing that we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope,” said Megyn Kelly, the show’s host.
Mr. Higbie, a former Navy SEAL who served two tours in Iraq, denied that, but said, “We need to protect America first.”
He stood by his comments in a phone interview on Thursday morning, saying that he had been alluding to the fact that the Supreme Court had “upheld things as horrific as Japanese internment camps.”
“There is historical, factual precedent to do things are not politically popular and sometimes not right, in the interest of national security,” he said, adding that he “fundamentally” disagreed with “the internment camp mantra and doing it at all.”
He clarified that he was not a constiutional lawyer and was working from a layman’s understanding of the 1944 Supreme Court ruling that the order for internment camps was constitutional. He said he hopes to be involved in the Trump administration, but has had no “formal conversations” with the president-elect’s team.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump did not reply to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kobach declined to comment.
A spokesman for the Great America PAC said Mr. Higbie had stopped working for the fund-raising group on the day after the election.
Interactive Feature | Get the Morning Briefing by Email What you need to know to start your day, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.
Mr. Higbie’s comments were met with furious criticism by civil rights activists, Muslim organizations and politicians.
Representative Mark Takano, a Japanese-American and Democrat from California whose parents and grandparents were imprisoned during World War II, said in a statement Thursday that the comments reflected “an alarming resurgence of racism and xenophobia in our political discourse.” He called on Mr. Trump to denounce them.
Robert S. McCaw, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, called the reference to internment camps as a precedent “absolutely deplorable” and said that it would “would return America to one of the darkest chapters of its history.”
Mr. McCaw noted that Congress had formally apologized for the Japanese-American internment r in a law signed by President Reagan.
“I can’t see how it would now be right to do the same thing to Muslims,” Mr. McCaw said.
Mr. Kobach, who is Kansas’ secretary of state, was referring to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which he helped create while working at the Department of Justice. The program was first proposed in 2002 and significant portions of it suspended nine years later in 2011. Mr. Kobach, who has degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale, had helped to create and implement the system when he worked for Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The policy came under heavy criticism while it was in effect and afterward. In a 2012 report, the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at the Pennsylvania State University’s law school called it a “tool that allowed the government to systematically target Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and South Asians” and a “clear example of discriminatory and arbitrary racial profiling.”
“Within its first year of operation, the registration system resulted in the apprehension of numerous suspected terrorists,” according to his Kansas government biography.
That program was not as broad or sweeping as the database of Muslim residents that Mr. Trump had said he would “certainly implement” during the Republican primaries. He later backed off the idea after criticism.
On social media, many non-Muslims have reacted to Mr. Kobach’s comments by saying that they will simply “register as Muslim.” The official Twitter account of the Anti-Defamation League posted a statement from its chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, saying that “if one day Muslims will be forced to register, that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”
That seems unlikely to work, since such a registry would apply only to visitors from certain countries.
Mr. McCaw, the spokesman for CAIR, said that the ideas advanced by Mr. Higbie and Mr. Kobach might seem to be different in degree, but the two ideas — a database of names and internment camps based on religious or ethnic heritage — were inexorably linked.
“I really do feel as though the prospect of internment is always tied to registries of people,” he said.