Donald’s Trump’s claim that “The Wall” stops a “significant terrorist threat against America” isn’t true. Here’s why
Oakland, CA – Today, in an act of desperation, President Donald Trump hosted a meeting with leading members of both bodies of Congress to find money for his wall and end the government showdown, and while it was acknowledged that Dems do indeed want to fund border security–including on the southern border–they are NOT going to pay for a wall. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer argued that walls are not the most effective deterrents for border crossings, and that money can be better spent on personnel, technology and development of better drone and satellite recon, etc. They are not averse, either, in selective locations to the types of wire fences we have in places now either.
Sensing any hope of compromise might be slipping away, Trump then shifted positions and justified his “wall” on the basis of national security, claiming a significant terrorist threat against America unless he gets money for his wall. The wall, apparently, has to be steel. Moreover, Trump (and later his spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders) claimed that in 2018 nearly four thousand terrorists had been arrested trying to sneak in at the southern border from Mexico.
Now we all know this administration and this President seem to have a very loosey goosey relationship with that pesky thing called “the truth,”–but even for them, this was a whopper that could not be allowed to progress in our discourse about border funding and the President’s decision to shut down the US Government.
This is where I come in. As you have read in my posts before, a major area of research, study and teaching for me involves both terrorism and counter terrorism, especially as they regard rhetoric and messaging. I have published extensively in this field and also done service working with NATO on the subject for the last four years.
With that experience I can tell you today that Trump’s claim of a crisis and threat of terrorism that exists because he has not been able to build his wall – is a total and absolute fabrication. Let me deal with the issues here as plainly and simply as I can.
First, a cursory inspection of open source, Department of Homeland Security reports demonstrates that the numbers here refer to 2017 and not 2018. More importantly, however, the 4,000 number refers to Homeland Security stops made AROUND THE GLOBE, NOT AT OUR SOUTHERN BORDER, and here’s the kicker, MAINLY THESE STOPS WERE MADE AT AIRPORTS. Those who were stopped were on watch lists for people of “special interest.” How does one get on such a list? Membership and/or history with a terrorist group might be one way. But it could also be for something as simple as country of origin. What did our President and Sanders do? They took dated data, from airports around the world, and conflated this with making stops of terrorists at the southern border of the United States. If there exists data of terrorists interdicted and arrested at our southern border, I’d like to see it. They surely didn’t prove it today.
Second, study and after study of this subject clearly demonstrates that while we do indeed need better border security to prevent terrorism–the money that must be spent here to fight terrorism should be directed to both our airports (there are close to 20,000–public and private–of them in the United States) and to sea ports. Historically, this is where there are significant risks–and while we have beefed up security at our airports, we haven’t done so at all airports. We also know from past examples that if foreign terrorists do come to the United States (which btw, is more rare), they are far more likely to come here by airline. And, more significant, they may again choose to use jets as weapons. We have made significant gains to prevent hijacking since 9/11–but nothing is one hundred percent guaranteed. Seaports, by contrast, also present terror risks simply because bombs and (God Forbid) even small scale nuclear devices could be secreted away in large metal containers on cargo ships–of the kind we see all the time in San Francisco Bay. Fortunately, there is technology to detect the presence of nuclear devices–once the ships reach port and are unloaded and inspected. But what happens if a device or significant bomb is detonated while it is close but before it has reached port? I’m not trying to frighten anyone–just to acknowledge that if national security/preventing a terror attack is the agenda item, there are more and bigger fish to fry than worrying about a foolish campaign promise to build a wall.
Third and finally, study after study–in multiple countries which are also our allies in the fight against terrorism–now document the fact that the real risk of terrorism comes from domestic or home grown terrorists, NOT from foreign fighters who have come to the US to commit terrorism. Let me remind you that the two men who delivered the van with a huge fertilizer bomb to the base of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City were American citizens, upset about the outcome of the assault on a compound in Waco, Texas. If you would rather focus on Muslims and/or middle easterners–let’s look back to the terrorist bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, committed by two young brothers, both Muslim and originally from Kyrgystan. Both were also American citizens who had been here for many years. Both brothers became radicalized after feeling despondent about US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that the way we treat Muslims and middle easterners in this country, and how we are quick to make an association between them and terrorism. If you were a young muslim male, would that kind of treatment make you feel American–or just ostracized and “othered?” Their actions were not uncommon. In that same time period, the terror group that would eventually be known as ISIS grasped that radicalization could be introduced and managed initially via social media—any kind of social media. Especially, because this kind of media knows few if any boundaries. Individuals who already feel singled out or ostracized in a community are easy marks for this kind of radicalization. It has produced the same kinds of results throughout Europe–and also served ISIS in helping recruit over 50,000 fighters to go from countries around the world to fight in Syria and Iraq.
So, the next time President Trump claims terrorism is the reason to build a wall–don’t be fooled by his foolishness. If anything, Nancy Pelosi is correct when she says a wall sends the wrong message. Walls are meant to keep people out. They also separate some people from others. That’s another way to ostracize people–and a sadly effective way to encourage radicalization and the very kind of terrorism we want to end.
And by the way, somebody really should correct the president on his use of placing his hand against his forehead. It looks like he’s giving the Democrats the middle finger…or trying a Jedi mind trick!
Joe Tuman: Twice Dept. Chair, Communication Studies, Full Professor of political and legal communications, SFSU. Oakland resident.