Donald Trump’s Step Into North Korea Sparks Memories Of Slain American Otto Warmbier, Who Trends On Twitter

Handout/Dong-A IlboGetty Images

Donald Trump on Sunday afternoon — early Sunday morning United States Eastern Time — accompanied North Korea’s autocratic leader Kim Jong-un on a stroll onto the North Korean side of the demarcation line between North and South Korea, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. By crossing that line, Trump established a historic first, as CNN reported.

Since the founding of North Korea in 1948, none of the 12 previous U.S. presidents ever set foot on North Korean ground, largely due to the fact that even though the Korean War between North and South — in which the U.S. fought on the side of the South — ceased fire in 1953, no official peace was declared, and technically, the war has continued ever since, as The Associated Press recounts.

Tensions have run high between North Korea and the U.S., perhaps reaching their most strained point in August of 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked and murdered two U.S. soldiers stationed at the DMZ, hacking them to death with an axe, as The Atlantic Monthly has chronicled.

But the axe murders were not the final time that an American met his death at North Korean hands. In January of 2016, Otto Warmbier, a college student from Ohio who was visiting North Korea, was arrested by North Korean authorities. About 18 months later, the North Koreans released Warmbier — but the 22-year-old was in a nearly brain-dead state, apparently from severe beatings suffered at the hands of the North Korean prison guards.

A lengthy investigation published by GQ Magazine cast doubt on the claims of beatings, but “that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tortured,” the article said.

Otto Warmbier is pitctured on his funeral program,
Funeral program for Otto Warmbier, who is pictured at right.Featured image credit: Bill PuglianoGetty Images

On social media, Trump’s brief foray into North Korea — a gesture that critics say legitimizes the North Korean regime despite its record of brutal human rights violations, according to the BBC — stirred up memories of Warmbier, causing “Otto Warmbier” to trend on Twitter.

In fact, according to the social media tracking site Trends24, Warmbier’s name was the 7th-highest Twitter trend, as of noon Eastern Time in the United States.

Numerous high-profile Twitter users took to the platform to register their disapproval of Trump’s walk into North Korea, and to invoke memories of Warmbier, including Virginia congressional Rep. Don Beyer.

CNN correspondent Jim Sciutto, who anchored the network’s coverage of Trump’s Sunday meeting with Kim, noted on his Twitter account that Trump appeared “to forget Otto Warmbier was returned brain damaged and near death.”

Though Trump has often cited the return of Warmbier as one of his administration’s greatest foreign policy triumphs, some Twitter users reminded readers that, according to a report earlier this year, the U.S. paid a $2 million ransom to retrieve Warmbier, as The Inquisitr had reported.