Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of several books about terrorism, including most recently, “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.”
On the campaign trail on Saturday, Donald Trump asserted that there was no terrorism in the US when he was the president, a claim that is false in myriad ways.
It’s not the first time he has made the claim, which is also linked to Trump’s plans, should he become president again, to bring back a “Muslim ban” that blocked or made it very difficult to travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries.
Despite Trump’s much-vaunted travel ban, there was plenty of terrorism on his watch as the 45th president of the United States.
On October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek resident of the US who was inspired by ISIS, plowed a truck into a group of pedestrians in Manhattan, killing eight and wounding 11.
Two years later, a member of the Saudi military shot and killed three American sailors and wounded eight others at the US Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
During Trump’s presidency, there were also multiple lethal attacks by far-right terrorists, most notably on August 3, 2019, when a white nationalist went on a shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people who he believed were Hispanic immigrants, according to the US Department of Justice.
Also, the most lethal antisemitic attack ever in the United States took place on October 27, 2018, when a terrorist killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
It seems, at least in Trump’s mind, that lethal acts of terrorism carried out by far-right terrorists don’t count as terrorism.
Trump, of course, also helped to instigate one of the most spectacular acts of domestic terrorism in American history when he egged on a mob of thousands of his supporters to march on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, which triggered a riot that injured 114 Capitol Police officers, according to a bipartisan US Senate investigation. The riot also led to the deaths of five people.
As for Trump’s remedy to the terrorism problem, his plans to resurrect his so-called Muslim ban go beyond a simple repeat, as he said during a campaign stop in Iowa in July: “When I return to the office, the travel ban is coming back even bigger than before and much stronger than before. We don’t want people blowing up our shopping centers.”
When Trump was in office, the travel ban faced various legal challenges but was eventually upheld by the US Supreme Court and included visitors to the US from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen as well as North Korea and Venezuela.
The ban, of course, did nothing to impede the Uzbek terrorist who killed eight people in Manhattan or the Saudi terrorist who killed three sailors in Pensacola. Nor did it do anything to stop the domestic terrorists that are already here in the US.
Terrorism did not disappear with Trump, and his proposed “solution,” were he to become president again – amping up the Muslim travel ban – likely won’t accomplish much of anything.
If he were really serious about trying to reduce the number of victims of terrorism in the US, an excellent place to start would be restricting the ability to purchase the kinds of semi-automatic rifles that were used in the atrocities at the Walmart in El Paso, and the synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The likelihood that Trump would do much of anything on gun control is, of course, remote. In April, speaking at the National Rifle Association annual meeting, Trump boasted, “I was proud to be the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president you’ve ever had in the White House,” adding, “This is not a gun problem, this is a mental health problem, this is a social problem, this is a cultural problem, this is a spiritual problem.”
As for Trump having any kind of second thoughts about the mayhem he helped unleash during the January 6 riot, forget it. When he was asked at a CNN town hall last year, if he would pardon the rioters who were convicted of federal offenses, he said he was “inclined to pardon many of them.”
At the same CNN town hall, Trump referred to January 6 as a “beautiful day.” Trump has made a lot of bizarro claims over the years, but this must surely rank among his wackiest. My wife and I live in Washington, DC, and we were so unnerved by the violence unfolding at the Capitol that we picked up our kids early from school. This was not a beautiful day, but one of the grimmest the Republic has seen in a long time.
As Trump spends more time on the campaign trail, we will surely be seeing more factually challenged statements of this type.
Fact-checking those statements will likely have zero impact on the MAGA faithful, but it may provide some small solace for those who labor in the fact-based world.