As the city of London reeled from a deadly attack Saturday night that left seven people dead and many others injured, U.S. President Donald Trump was under fire for his response to the violence—first relying on reports from the far-right Drudge Report and then for an attempt to exploit the incident by using it to promote his desire for a ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim nations.
"Using an unconfirmed attack in another country to push for the travel ban. Imagine what he’d push for if there were a domestic attack." —Nicole Hemmer, presidential historian
Would President Donald Trump exploit a national tragedy or a violent terrorist attack to further clamp down on civil liberties or push through anti-democratic policies?
That has been a steady question since Trump took office in January, but his behavior overnight has now offered relevant evidence.
Just as news spread that a van had apparently run down pedestrians on London Bridge in the city's center, Trump—though he sits at the head of the world's most sophisticated intelligence apparatus with massive information-gathering capabilities—took the opportunity to retweet a message from Drudge, a site known for anti-Muslim bigotry and sensationalist headlines. The message read: "Fears of new terror attack after van 'mows down 20 people' on London Bridge." Though the posting was later deleted, many people took screen shots:
The President who waits days to comment on white supremacist terror at home will RT Drudge about foreign terror before anything is confirmed pic.twitter.com/8uL6td4zgF— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) June 3, 2017
Subsequently, a second tweet about London went up at the @realDonaldTrump account which stated: "We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!"
"We should be outraged when the president exploits a terrible violent crime to push his discriminatory and illegal policy."—Cecillia Wang, ACLU
Though federal courts have so far block the Trump administration's attempt to impose what critics call a "Muslim Ban," last week the Department of Justice lobbied the U.S. Supreme Court to revive the order.
But as the Guardian newspaper reported, Trump's tweet on Saturday night "provoked a storm of criticism from commentators who saw it as a piece of opportunism at London's expense" and cited several:
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Daniel Drezner, a politics professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, responded furiously, denouncing the president as “a cheap hustler occupying an office that you don’t understand”
John Horgan, a psychologist and terrorist expert at Georgia State University responded to the tweet by calling Trump the "Opportunist-in-Chief."
Adam Wagner, a British human rights barrister in said: "Message from London: political point scoring is the absolute, LAST thing we need right now."
Raising a further question of what his behavior says about Trump, presidential historian and journalist Nicole Hemmer tweeted:
Using an unconfirmed attack in another country to push for the travel ban.— Nicole Hemmer (@pastpunditry) June 3, 2017
Imagine what he’d push for if there were a domestic attack. https://t.co/IUQ6bPKHcx
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union took the language of the president's own tweet to once again highlight that his intent is an outright ban, not just a restriction or form of heightened security as the administration has tried to argue before the courts. "Glad we both agree the ban is a ban," the ACLU tweeted late Saturday night.
And Cecillia Wang, the group's deputy legal director, said defenders of civil liberties in the U.S. should be "outraged when the president exploits a terrible violent crime to push his discriminatory and illegal policy."
But even President Trump was not ready to drop the subject, taking again to Twitter early Sunday morning to argue the popular right-wing canard that "political correctness" is somehow making the world less safe:
We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don't get smart it will only get worse— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2017
To this many sharp retorts followed, including this one on other possible motives for violent attacks taking place around the world on a daily basis:
We must stop selling weapons and making war around the world.— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) June 4, 2017