Explained

Midterms 2018: Trump, the Muslim World and ‘The Brown People Are Coming!’

Trump tweeted, without citing any evidence, that 'criminals and unknown Middle Easterners' are amid an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands

President Donald Trump, on board Air Force One, speaks to the press after watching a live TV broadcast of the Senate confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Oct. 6, 2018
Pablo Martinez Monsivais,AP

Last Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump continued tweeting what many pundits see as his closing argument this campaign season, making grandiose threats about using the U.S. military to stop a migrant caravan of thousands of people from Central America – including children, parents and the elderly – from entering the United States.

Trump is using the caravan to energize crowds in rallies across the country, where he paints Democrats as a national security threat for being willing to allow these dangerous immigrants from crossing the border.

Trump claimed in a Monday tweet that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners" are amid the crowd, for which he offered no evidence. Earlier in the week he threatened to deploy the U.S. military on the southern border and even to close the U.S.-Mexico border, all which, according to Michael Tomasky, is part of “Trump’s closing argument: The brown people are coming!"

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made a similar last minute campaign push in March of 2015 when he warned his base that they must turn out to vote for him because "Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves."

"Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them," Trump added on Twitter.

The caravan, an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people, fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands, is currently in southern Mexico, inching toward the distant U.S. border.

"Remember the Midterms!" Trump tweeted.

For Trump, of course, this campaign tactic is nothing new. This story goes all the way back to June of 2015 when he announced that he was running for president by pledging to be tough on illegal immigration – claiming, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump’s (Muslim) travel ban

Over the summer, the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, upheld Trump's controversial travel ban, which had previously been ruled against by lower courts that saw it as targeting a specific minority – Muslims.

The ban, officially known as Executive Order 13769, indefinitely suspends the issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to applicants from the Muslim-majority countries Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — plus North Korea and Venezuela.

Notably missing from Trump’s list is Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S. and site of Trump’s first official foreign trip abroad as president. It was also the origin of the September 11th terrorists.

In the court’s first full-blown consideration of a Trump order, the conservative justices who make up the court’s majority seemed unwilling to hem in a president who has invoked national security to justify restrictions on who can or cannot step on U.S. soil.

In December, the justices allowed the ban to take full effect, even as the legal fight over it continued. Trump’s tough stance on immigration was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, and he rolled out the first version of the ban just a week after taking office, sparking chaos and protests at a number of airports.

Some who oppose the ban have said courts should treat Trump differently from his predecessors. But that issue was raised only obliquely from the bench when Justice Elena Kagan talked about a hypothetical president who campaigned on an anti-Semitic platform and then tried to ban visitors from Israel.

When Solicitor General Noel Francisco, defending the ban, started to answer that such a turn of events was extremely unlikely because of the two countries’ close relationship, Kagan stopped him. “This is an out-of-the-box kind of president in my hypothetical,” she said, to laughter.

Trump also made his arguments in favor of the ban, often incorrectly invoking his predecessor. "My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," Trump wrote in a January 29 statement.

Kellyanne Conway infamously continued the Trump administration's attempts to deflect criticism over the travel and immigration ban by following in her boss' footsteps and comparing the action to Obama administration policies.

Conway told Chris Mathews in an interview, "I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.” Fact checkers were quick to point out no such massacre or ban took place and the gaffe became a political punchline.  Conway apparently was referring to a 2011 foiled terror attack in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which led to Obama delaying, not banning, Iraqi refugee visa approvals for a period of time.

Trump makes hate great again

In November of 2017, Trump retweeted a series of shocking anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British politician, sparking swift and searing responses in the U.K. The videos, the authenticity of which is in serious doubt, were first posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right hate group Britain First.

The videos Trump retweeted read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke out against the videos, saying "It was wrong for the president to have done this."

One of the first reactions was from the widower of Jo Cox, the British parliamentarian who was murdered by an assassin who shouted "Britain first" during the killing.  Brendan Cox wrote, "Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself."

Another Twitter user cleverly pointed out how Trump's retweets violate the platforms user guidelines against incitement and hate speech. In a message to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the user wrote, "hey @Jack @biz @twitter one of your users is violating terms of service by retweeting targeted hate propaganda. Is this the site you wanted?"

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this article