Early Friday morning, an explosion rocked a London Underground train, injuring at least 22 people. President Donald Trump didn’t respond with condolences or messages of solidarity. Instead, he touted his travel ban and said authorities in the UK knew the identities of the alleged attackers before the strike — an unfounded charge that British leaders denied angrily.
The device exploded on a District Line train in southwest London at around 8:20 am local time. While British authorities are treating the incident as a terrorist attack, they have not yet determined who may be responsible for the bomb or what their motives were.
A few hours after the explosion, Trump sent out a string of tweets that suggested British authorities in fact had the attackers on their radar screens. He also dispensed advice on how to stop future attacks from happening both abroad and in the US.
Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner.The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
We have made more progress in the last nine months against ISIS than the Obama Administration has made in 8 years.Must be proactive & nasty!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
So there’s ... a ton to unpack here.
The first thing that stands out is what isn’t there at all: a declaration of sympathy. Typically foreign leaders consider an expression of condolences to victims of disasters and attacks to be the first order of business. Trump doesn’t.
He immediately says the attackers were “within the sights of Scotland Yard,” suggesting that the UK police knew who they were in advance but failed to intervene. He offers no evidence to back up the incendiary charge.
But British authorities say they don’t know who committed the attack. British Prime Minister Theresa May said in reaction to Trump’s tweets, "I never think it's helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation."
And a UK police spokesperson said Trump’s commentary was "pure speculation given we don’t know who is involved" and described his conjecture as “unhelpful.”
Trump also says of the attackers that “the internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off and use better,” which is an incredibly vague prescription.
It does seem to suggest that Trump thinks increasing surveillance of internet use and possibly censoring certain swaths of it should be considered a counterterrorism technique. It’s unclear how the government would actually go about the latter, but it still sounds somewhat alarming.
Trump then uses the bombing to sell his beleaguered travel ban, which is enduring various legal challenges but currently prevents most refugees from entering the US. He argues that political correctness is holding it back from being as large and sweeping as is needed to protect the US from these kinds of attacks. In reality, a series of court decisions finding some or all of the ban unlawfully discriminatory is what’s giving it trouble.
And as my colleague Jennifer Williams points out, the Muslim-majority countries Trump targets with his travel ban have little or nothing to do with terror attacks in the US. None of the perpetrators of the major US terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam in the past 15 years have come from the nations on Trump’s list of banned countries. In fact, the country home to the biggest number of terrorists who have carried out successful attacks inside the US is the US itself.
And finally, Trump decided this is also a time for a jab at former President Obama as weak on terrorism, because why not?
It didn’t take long for Trump to shift his attention to more pressing matters, though. Just 20 minutes after his tweetstorm, he took aim at his critics on ESPN, saying, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”