On October 20, 2017 President Donald Trump gave the public a good reminder about the cautionary spirit implied by “lies, damned lies and statistics,” when he carelessly linked the rise of reported crime in parts of the United Kingdom to “Islamic terrorism.”
While Trump does not directly state it in his tweet, the implication is clear: the recent ideologically motivated attacks carried out by ISIS are directly responsible for the 13% rise in crime across the entire UK. Looking closely at the tweet, there are two things to take note of; the crime statistic and the specific quote Trump’s referencing.
The crime statistic comes from an annual report produced by the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), which specifically looked at reported violent crime in England and Wales, (not the entire “United Kingdom,” as misleadingly described in Trump’s tweet). It covered gun and knife-related offenses, robberies, sexual crimes, stalking and harassment, burglary and car crime.
So what does terrorism have to do with this? As The Guardian points out, “The report barely mentions terrorism, other than to refer on one occasion to the impact recent terrorist attacks in Britain had on the headline murder rate.” Or more straightforwardly, in the words of an ONS official familiar with the report, “The simple answer is that our statistical release bulletin yesterday made no link between terrorism and violent crime.”
One statistic that wasn’t mentioned by Trump was a 29% rise in hate crimes across Wales and England from the previous year, as stated in a separate report published a few days earlier by the UK Home Office.
Then there’s the mysterious quote and source within Trump’s tweet. It’s not the ONS report, as some might think. Media Matters for America tracked down the original quote, tracing it back to One American News Network (OANN), a far-right website that frequently hosts conspiracy theorists and often pushes racist commentary. If anyone had any doubt about OANN’s role as the source of the quote in Trump’s speech, this tweet from the far-right site should put that issue to rest:
Of course, this is far from the only time that Trump has made anti-Muslim statements. Both The Washington Post and Politifact have rundowns on some of Trump’s most inflammatory statements, many of which are undeniably anti-Muslim. He’s not the only one within his administration who has done so.
For example, White House policy advisor Stephen Miller cited an analysis from the Center for Immgration Studies — a SPLC-designated anti-immigrant hate group — falsely claiming 72 individuals covered in Trump’s original Muslim ban were “implicated in terroristic activity in the United States.” However according to an independent review of CIS’ analysis by The Annenberg Public Policy Center, “None of the 72 people was responsible for any terrorist-related deaths in the U.S. — even though roughly 1 million citizens of the seven countries came to the U.S. during this time as refugees, immigrants or on nonimmigrant visas, according to our review of State Department data.” It concluded that Miller’s remarks were “a gross exaggeration.”
An even bigger gaffe came from Kellyanne Conway, who similarly attempted to defend Trump’s Muslim ban by making reference to the “Bowling Green massacre,” purportedly committed by violent extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam. The problem was that the incident Conway described never happened. There was a 2011 attempt by Iraqi nationals living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to provide money and material support to terrorists overseas, however the men were arrested by law enforcement officials.
The pattern of bigoted lies committed by Trump and his supporters goes beyond targeting Muslims. Perhaps the most telling example (and response) that foreshadowed this pattern occurred almost two years ago. In November 2015, then-candidate Trump infamously re-tweeted a post from an openly white supremacist account which falsely claimed that 81% of white people in the United States are killed by black people.
In the face of heavy criticism for spreading such a blatantly false and racist piece of misinformation, Trump refused to apologize, rhetorically asking, “Am I going to check every statistic?”
Not then and not now, it seems.