News & Politics

Donald Trump's Paris Agreement Withdrawal Wasn't the Only Egregious Blunder from His Rose Garden Speech

The president seems to have an affinity for labeling incidents terrorist attacks—even when they are not.

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

A hotel in Manila was attacked on Thursday when a man attempted to rob a resort and casino and set its tables aflame, killing 36 people and injuring 54 others. After learning of the attack, President Donald Trump began his Rose Garden address Thursday by referring to a "terrorist attack" in Manila.

According to NBC Nightly News, staffers promptly erupted in laughter when Trump repeated the claim in the situation room of the West Wing later that day.

"I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila," Trump said, according to the Georgetown Patch. "It is really very sad as to what's going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected."

The only problem is that the attack in Manila had nothing to do with terrorism. In fact, Philippine officials determined it was a botched robbery.

Trump’s mislabeling of the incident, without a shred of evidence to support his claim, reflects his dangerous affinity for selectively capitalizing on terrorism when it is beneficial to his foreign policy vision—one that calls for a violent assault on “radical Islamic terror.” The president has made any number of statements condemning terrorist attacks, but only those carried about by ISIS.

"We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we have faced in every age before," Trump said last August.

There is another problem with Trump’s apparent selectivity on what constitutes terror—his definition only seems to extend to attacks carried out by people of color, particularly those of Middle Eastern descent. This racist vision is further highlighted by Trump’s growing silence on attacks and hate crimes committed by white nationalists in the U.S.

For instance, the only statement released after two men were killed in Portland, Oregon defending a Muslim girl was released from the president's @POTUS Twitter account, which is managed by Trump’s staff and not Trump himself. It’s also telling that since the attack occurred last Friday, Trump had tweeted 10 times on Sunday without once addressing the hate crime. The president remained silent about an attack in late February when a man told two men he thought were Middle Eastern to “get out of my country” before shooting them and killing one. Trump has also declined to comment about the noose found at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

This silence runs parallel to an increase in hate crimes against people of color and Muslims in particular. According to the latest FBI data, there has been a 67 percent spike in crimes against Muslims since 2015, the year Trump launched his presidential campaign. Data from the Southern Poverty Law Center shows a growth in the number of hate groups, which has frown from 892 in 2015 to 917 in 2016.

There is also evidence suggesting white supremacists in the U.S. actually pose more of a danger than the “radical Islamic terrorists” Trump constantly villifies. According to an April 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office, of the 85 violent extremist incidents since September 11, 2001, 73 percent of them were committed by right-wing groups, while 27 percent were carried out by Islamist extremists. The report added that “fatalities resulting from attacks by far right-wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years.”

Staying silent about attacks perpetrated by white supremacists — one of the groups who most passionately supported Trump — while subsequently condemning attacks that fit into his anti-Islam vision has become a dangerous tactic for the Trump administration.  And although Trump mislabeled the Manila attack as terrorism, his mistake is part of his administration’s self-serving narrative to solely focus on ISIS and demonize Muslims in the process.

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Celisa Calacal is a journalist from Los Angeles. She is a writing fellow for the Independent Media Institute and a news intern with KCUR in Kansas City. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Ithaca College, where she worked as an editor and reporter for the Ithacan. Her writing has appeared in ThinkProgress, AlterNet, and Salon. Follow Celisa on Twitter @celisa_mia.