Trump's Racism Crisis Deepens Over His Barcelona Comments

It took days for the president to respond to the tragedy in Charlottesville, but just minutes to respond to the one in Barcelona.
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It took days for the president to respond to the tragedy in Charlottesville, but just minutes to respond to the one in Barcelona.
Medics and police tend to injured people near the scene of a terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, on August 17th, 2017.

Medics and police tend to injured people near the scene of a terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, on August 17th, 2017.

A deadly attack on a Barcelona tourist attraction Thursday provoked rapid-fire tweets from President Donald Trump, providing critics with more evidence of the White House's apparent support for the anti-Muslim alternative right.

A van that plowed into Barcelona's Las Ramblas commercial district Thursday killed at least a dozen people and injured dozens of others. An Islamic State publication, Amaq News, was quick to claim the attack and said that it was perpetrated in retaliation for U.S.-led coalition attacks against the armed group.

Trump was quick to condemn the attack on Twitter: "The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain," he wrote, "and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough & strong, we love you!"

Minutes later, the president continued: "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!"

The tweet referred to rumors about U.S. General John Pershing having shot Filipino Muslim insurgents with pig-blood-soaked bullets in the early 19th century. The stories have been widely discredited by historians.

The right-leaning Washington Examiner, just an hour later, reported that Trump's tweet "resurrects [a] tall-tale" about Pershing in a potential sign of increased scrutiny by U.S. conservatives against the Trump administration.

Muslim Americans were quick to observe an inconsistency in Trump's handling of Barcelona and the standoff between white nationalists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw one antifa protestor killed when a car plowed into a crowd.

"Obviously we condemn the attack in Barcelona. But it took Trump minutes to tweet out false information about General Pershing whereas he said he needed two days to get facts on Charlottesville. He just tweeted out a known falsehood within minutes of Barcelona," says Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group.

"He's still pandering to the Islamophobic alt-right by resurrecting the widely debunked hoax about General Pershing spilling pig's blood."

Trump condemned the killing of an antifa protestor two days after her death. Facing criticism from the press for his failure to reject racism and the KKK, Trump explained that he needed time to gather facts on what had transpired.

Americans—Muslim and otherwise—are growing tired of Washington's inaction over Trump's divisive comments, Saylor says. "The Trump administration wanders from crisis to crisis. Each time you think 'this is it' and D.C. is going to wake up, and it doesn't happen. I think unfortunately we will continue to see this administration essentially turn Americans against each other. You will see Americans across this nation who think Trump is not their president looking for ways to resist."

Much as the French and European alternative right pander implicitly to a white supremacist base, so too do Trump's comments on Charlottesville and now Barcelona, says Karim Emile Bitar, director of research at the Paris-based world affairs think tank Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques. And, as in Europe, incendiary anti-Islam rhetoric only serves to empower terrorists, Bitar says.

"He's still pandering to the Islamophobic alt-right by resurrecting the widely debunked hoax about General Pershing spilling pig's blood. This tweet throws oil on the fire and couldn't be less presidential. Nothing could help the ISIS narrative more than having such an unabashed ignorant racist in the White House."

As for Thursday's attack, Bitar says that, despite recent news that the Islamic State is losing ground in Iraq and Syria, we have yet to see the end of the armed group, aiming to return with renewed force in incidents like Barcelona.

"All these articles in the past few weeks about the demise of ISIS," Bitar says, "reminded me of the quip attributed to Mark Twain: 'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.'"

In other words, the Islamic State may be down, but they're not totally out—yet.

"The Barcelona attacks," Bitar says, "are yet another proof that ISIS can still strike pretty easily, and their territorial defeats in Iraq and Syria might provide and incentive to go back to the strategy of hitting abroad rather than building a caliphate that would be vulnerable and easily targeted by the international coalition."

It seems uncertainty—over both Trump's controversial comments and the future of terrorism—abounds.

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