Trump’s Immigration and Refugee Executive Order is Being Used to Recruit Islamist Terrorists

Donald Trump spent his election campaign making statements like this one from a 7 December 2015 press release.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

There were even calls for a Muslim registry.


Those statements and others like them morphed into the recent executive order banning immigrants from seven named countries plus all refugees for three months, and Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Imgn Order 1Two weeks ago I wrote the post ‘Why Trump’s Refugee Ban is Stupid‘. The main focus of that post was, obviously, the situation in relation to refugees.

However, there are multiple other reasons why the temporary immigration and refugee ban is wrong-headed. Lawyers in the US, for example, are doing sterling work in support of immigrants caught up in it because of its poor drafting.

Elections Have Consequences

During the election campaign, the statements from Trump were dismissed as the rhetoric of one man.

Sure, he has his supporters they say, but even most people in his own party are speaking out against such extremism.

Immigration 1But then Trump wins the election. He becomes president. And all of a sudden it’s no longer just electioneering – it’s reality. All those Republicans who spoke out against him nevertheless cast their votes for him. Worse, most are now defending his policies.

Because it doesn’t matter whether or not Trump’s travel ban is a Muslim ban. You can give all the reasons you like why it isn’t a Muslim ban. The reality is, it looks like a Muslim ban, and not just to the extremists. And so jihadis can, and do, use it to recruit people to their cause.

Terrorist Recruitment Tool

One of the major reasons the ban is a bad idea needs more attention than it’s currently getting. That is its value to terrorists as a recruitment tool.

Trump and his acolytes dismiss this. “They already hate us,” they say. “How can this make it worse?”

These people are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. The constant fear-mongering by Republican politicians over months of campaigning is interfering with their ability to assess both the threat and where it’s coming from.

Others who don’t blindly support the current administration but nevertheless provide it frequent cover, such as Greg Gutfeld of Fox News, mock the recruitment tool argument mercilessly but using the same premise. “They already want to kill us,” he laughs. “It can’t get worse than that.” According to him and people like him, Trump is just fulfilling a campaign a promise to make people safer.

The reality is, he’s making them less safe. More terrorists are being created by the perception of an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment from the United States. Trump is reinforcing the Clash of Civilizations narrative that terrorist recruiters feed off.

Greg Gutfeld’s Argument

In response to the protests against Trump’s immigration ban, Gutfeld wrote an article for Fox News: ‘Why terror always trumps immigration‘. It starts out like this:

Before there was radical Islam, immigration and terror didn’t mix. No one coming here was trying to blow up your family at a mall over some maniacal belief in a death cult.

So you had the luxury of holding separate opinions about borders and national security. You could be liberal about who crossed the river from down south and totally hardcore regarding the Soviet threat.

That’s the past.

The explosion of jihad and its desire to export its contagious madness to all areas of the world have changed the way we view immigration. Terror, married to technology and accommodated by progress in travel, has turned evil individuals into traveling ballistic missiles. They pick a spot, and they hit it. Islamists are nothing but guided missiles that pride themselves on taking out as many infidels as possible.

This is why those who decry or defame President Trump’s executive order limiting travel to the U.S. are playing a dangerous game, one built on emotional response and virtue signaling. The critics are not interested in facts; they are interested in being perceived as heroic defenders of freedom. Which is false. Their beliefs make the future of freedom vulnerable to those who take advantage of the naïve and wish to annihilate our freedoms forever. They are worse than the fellow travelers during the Cold War. They hold hands with terror and guide it in.

Immigration 4The argument that people are relying on emotion rather than facts is a good one. The trouble is, the facts are not on his side. Immigrants are not the problem when it comes to terrorism in the United States. It’s not immigrants who want to “blow up your family at a mall”. It’s fellow US citizens who have been radicalized on the internet.

And people like the aforementioned Greg Gutfeld can say it’s not really happening because they haven’t seen the evidence. But it is really happening, and here’s the evidence.

The Facts: Refugees

People in general are not good at assessing risk. One of the statistics from my previous post on the Immigration ban is this one from Vox:

A report released last week [i.e. mid-September 2016] by the Cato Institute measured the risk to Americans posed by refugees. The report found that an American’s chances of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack in any given year are 1 in 3.64 billion. America’s murder rate — at 4.5 per 100,000 capita — is about 163,800 times higher.

As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out, adhering to Trump’s analogy, a bowl with three deadly Skittles (refugees) in it would need to contain 10.93 billion Skittles. … This would equate to a bowl of Skittles roughly 246 feet long, 123 feet high, and 9 feet deep.

The Facts: Immigrants and Islamist Terrorism

The vast majority of those committing Islamist terrorism since 9/11 are US-born citizens, not immigrants.

US Terrorists by Status 2001-2016

(Click graph to go to source.)


The New America Foundation wrote this in a report following the issue of Trump’s executive order on immigration:

On January 27, 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry from seven majority Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia) citing national security reasons. None of the deadly attackers since 9/11 emigrated or came from a family that emigrated from one of these countries nor were any of the 9/11 attackers from the listed countries. Seven of the lethal attackers were born American citizens.

Of the twelve lethal jihadist terrorists in the United States since 9/11:

* three are African-Americans
* three are from families that hailed originally from Pakistan
* one is from a family that came from the Palestinian Territories
* two came from Russia as children
* one emigrated from Egypt and conducted his attack a decade after coming to the United States
* and one each had families that originally came from Kuwait and Afghanistan

The also provided this graphic:

Origins of Jihadis 2001-2016

(Click graphic to go to source.)


To repeat the points in the graphic:

0 of the Fatal Attacks in the U.S. Committed by Jihadist Terrorists from Trump Visa Restricted Countries


12 U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents of the United States Responsible for Fatal Jihadist Attacks in the U.S.

The Facts: Terrorism by Non-Islamists

Remember too, Islamists aren’t the only sort of terrorists out there. According to Slate columnist Ben Mathis-Lilley, there have been at least 21 deadly terrorist attacks in the US, mostly by white supremacists, since 9/11. US citizens were responsible for all of these.  His list is here and these are just the three most recent from that list:

June 17, 2015.Dylann Roof murders nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

July 24, 2015:John Russell Houser, a 59-year-old man with a history of expressing extremist and anti-feminist beliefs, kills two women at a screening of the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Nov. 27, 2015:A 57-year-old religious fanatic named Robert Lewis Dear shoots and kills three people, including a police officer, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Helping Terrorist Recruitment

Niall McCarthy at Forbes wrote:

U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a statement saying they believe the order “may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” due to the signal it sends to the Muslim world.

And it’s not just the sad stories about Iranian babies initially unable to get heart surgery, which have done enormous damage to the vision of the US. McCarthy continues:

It also emerged last week that Iraqi Air Force fighter pilots will no longer be admitted to Arizona in order to undergo flight training to combat Islamic State.

I thought this was all about making the US a safer place?

Iran’s Response to the Immigration Ban

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was addressing a group of military leaders in early February when he said (from a MEMRI transcript):

“The day after tomorrow on Bahman 22 [anniversary of Islamic Revolution], the [Iranian] people will respond on the street to these threats and comments. They will show what stance the Iranian nation will take in the face of threats. No, we are not afraid of any threats. Yes, we are grateful to this man [Donald Trump] who has just come [to power]. We are grateful [to him] for making it easy for us and showed the true face of America. He exposed what we have been saying for more than 30 years about the political, economic, moral and social corruption in the U.S. ruling system during his election campaign and after that.

According to MEMRI the address aired on Iran Press TV and was also posted on the internet. The announcer on the MEMRI clip also said:

Ayatollah Sayyed Khamenei said [unintelligible] cannot paralyze the nation. He also said that the U.S. was behind the creation of Daesh, the wars in Iraq and Syria, and the sedition in Iran following the 2009 presidential election. The Leader was addressing a group of Iran’s army air force commanders and personnel on the occasion of National Air Force Day.

The Iranians have a new excuse to sponsor terrorism in the region.

Immigration 5Iraq’s Response to the Immigration Ban

Currently Iraqi forces and their allies (one of which is, of course, the US) are fighting DAESH for control of Mosul in northern Iraq. The battle is slow, tough, and complex. The Iraqis are winning and they will prevail in the end.

Just as important as the fact that Iraq is winning is the fact that DAESH is losing. Currently, they’re losing both the battle on the ground and the propaganda battle. It’s pretty hard to paint yourself as the bringers of the worldwide caliphate when you’re being beaten.

DAESH needs to portray their losses in Iraq as a temporary setback. They need to be seen as winning in other areas, especially against the Crusading Powers of Europe and the United States of America. And they need to inspire new recruits.

Again from MEMRI (see video here):

Iraqi Shiite militia leader Aws Al-Khafaji, Secretary-General of the Abu Fadhl Al-Abbas Brigades, said that he “liked Trump’s personality” because unlike previous presidents, who “would cover the face of the U.S. administration with makeup,” Trump reveals the true face of America, which “supports terrorism and is against liberties and Islam” and “wants to suck all the oil from this region.” Speaking on the Iraqi Ishraq TV channel on January 31, Al-Khafaji further said that the Iraqi government should punish any traitor and anyone who made any declaration against the Popular Mobilization Units or the Iraqi armed forces.

(See transcript of clip linked to above here.)

Immigration 3Al-Khafaji is an ally, and an Iraqi Shi’a. As such he’s one of those “saved” from Saddam Hussein’s regime. He’s now one of those risking his life every day in the fight against DAESH. And Trump’s executive order has left him feeling like this.

Immigration Ban an Extremist Recruitment Aid

CNN spoke to multiple former terrorists, security experts, and terrorist site monitoring services. All said that the immigration ban would be a recruitment aid.

Their article by Eliza Mackintosh includes the following (CNN advises some of the names are pseudonyms to protect identities):

“[Trump’s] helped ISIS a lot, he’s basically being a tool for them in a way,” Abu Obaida, a British former Jabhat al-Nusra fighter in Syria, told CNN via direct message. “On social media right now there’s a lot of people quoting Anwar al-Awlaki (the late spokesperson for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and his last speech when he said that America will turn on the Muslims.” …

A pro-ISIS account on Telegram — an encrypted app favored by the militant group — praised Trump as “the best caller to Islam,” signaling the President’s ban would attract new believers. …

One of the experts spoken to was Charlie Winter, senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London. He has been studying DAESH almost since their inception. According to CNN he said:

… the policy is “far more potent than any video or other piece of propaganda” the group could put out.
“[Trump]’s a caricature of the evil crusader that they want to convince everyone exists,” Winter said.
Trump has already featured briefly in at least two propaganda videos released by ISIS, as well as one clip published by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.

CNN also spoke to Fawaz Gerges, chairman of contemporary Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and author of ISIS: A History. According to them he said, “By banning Muslims, lumping them with radical Islamism, Donald Trump provides ammunition and motivation for al Qaeda and ISIS.”

The Result

Immigration 7It’s too late now. The genie (or should I say jinn) is out of the bottle and the damage is done. People like General Mattis might have been able to persuade Trump that this move was ill-advised beforehand, but Trump won’t back down now. He sees admitting he’s wrong as a sign of weakness and even if he could change things, he’s unlikely to on such a biggie.

All we can do is hope the new Executive Order he drafts is legally sound, doesn’t include refugees, includes a sunset clause, and has options for appeal in special conditions.

Trump’s lack of understanding of the complexity of the problem, and the fact so many of his closest advisors are equally ignorant, means he has made his country less instead of more safe.



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26 Responses to “Trump’s Immigration and Refugee Executive Order is Being Used to Recruit Islamist Terrorists”

  1. Ken says:

    Good summary of this dreadful situation, Heather. The only part I can take issue with is the assumption that either Trump or those around him are ignorant. I think they know what they’re doing and know exactly how to play on their followers fears and prejudices. When the so-called president laid blame for any future terrorist attack at the feet of the courts for not agreeing he had unlimited power, he gave the game away. His moves are from Bannon’s playbook and Bannon knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve even if Trump hasn’t quite caught on yet.

    • Yakaru says:

      Yes. It also plays straight into Putin’s plans as well — increasing polarization of society in the US (and elsewhere), and creating divisionns within the organs of state. And the cost to Trump & Putin is nil, as Islamic terrorism poses no threat to their power.

      • Exactly! Putin loves all this stuff making democracy look bad, making Russians think his sort of leadership is best, and destabilising the Western alliance.

      • nicky says:

        Islamic terrorism may not pose a threat, but the ‘creeping islamisation’ of Europe may, at least indirectly. I’m not so sure the costs of these policies are really nil to them.

        • It is a different situation in Europe, but the way they handle it will make all the difference. At the moment they’ve had an influx, and that’s always going to be difficult because change is tough and it frightens people. Countries like NZ and Canada that welcome refugees and immigrants on the whole have few problems. The US always kicks up a stink when a new group comes along (e.g. Irish and Italians), but eventually wonders what all the fuss was about and people are fully integrated into society.

          There are problems in France because of the way Muslims are marginalized, so it’s no wonder some act out. That’s not to excuse it, just to explain it.

          But it’s simple: you kick a dog, don’t be surprised when it bites.

          But why do people think there is going to be an Islamisation of Europe anyway? I believe that secular democracy really is the best form of government, and that people going to Europe from countries where they had so much less freedom will see that if they’re given the chance. Imo there is more likely to be a Europeanization of Muslims than an Islamisation of Europe long-term. I think the future of Islam in Europe is people like the Muslim mayors of London and Rotterdam.

          It’s in the hands of Europeans though. I’d be willing to bet that those countries that treated refugees the best overall will be the most peaceful. If you like the government, if the police treat you fairly, you will tell them if a member of your community is planning a terrorist attack. If you’ve been treated like rubbish, the terrorist is more likely to have some sympathy.

          Of course, it’s also easy for me to say this stuff from a country that has the security of distance.

          • nicky says:

            The ‘Islamic’ problem in Europe has not really much to do with political or war refugees. Most European Muslims are (descendants of) immigrant labour -cheap labour. It started in the sixties. Other immigrant groups, such as Italians and Poles have integrated pretty well. Later, waves of ‘welfare’ migrants came too. None of these groups, contrary to refugees, would have a possible tendency to be predisposed in favour of Western-type democracy.
            I do not think that Europe treating them ‘badly’ is the cause of the non-integration. On the contrary, the multiculturalism model, where muslims were allowed to get away with things you and I could not, is much more to blame. And then the religious education and schools Ayaan is so much opposed to. It allowed for these madrassas and imams systematically spewing hatred and contempt for ‘Western’ civilazation and democracy.

          • That’s a fair criticism. It’s also sort of my point. They weren’t integrated into European society well, though some countries did better than others.

            The faith schools in Britain is more a problem of government policy and one I agree is bad. However, although there are, for example, Muslim schools that teach some problematic values, there are not madrasses like are being funded in Afghanistan etc by Saudi Arabia.

            The Muslim schools are required to teach to the national curriculum. Many are doing that badly or improperly and getting away with it, and the whole funding model is screwed. There are Christian schools getting away with teaching Creationism too.

            I’m not convinced there are madrasses instead of proper schools. There are surely some mosques that have extremist imams. The same could be said for most religions though there are currently problems that make extremist Islam worse. I’ve also noticed accusations of extremism have been exposed as being false. It’s usually isolated people like Choudary, and he’s been dealt with now, though it took a while.

    • Thanks Ken. Good point. I too think a lot of what he does is like the illusionist’s trick of making you look elsewhere.

      In this case I also don’t think Trump has the depths to realize how bad a policy this is. He’s playing to his base but as well doesn’t understand the situation and consequences of what he’s doing.

  2. j.a.m. says:

    I thought terrorism was caused by Western imperialism. Now it’s because a few people had to put off their trip to Disney for a few weeks?

    • Ken says:

      It’s just not possible to read Heather’s post and claim she implies anything so idiotic, when one engages in good faith, that is.

      • j.a.m. says:

        I was addressing the McCain-Graham statement referenced above, and similar claims that this pause somehow motivates wavering would-be jihadists to get their lazy cabooses off the couch and march themselves down to the recruitment center. If someone can explain in plain language how that works, I would be obliged.

        • People don’t just wake up one day and change from normal to jihadi. It’s a process that takes time, though can be quick for those already engaged in criminal activity.

          It’s a similar process to the creation of a kid who shoots up a school, or an employee who attacks his work colleagues. It usually starts with something simple like alienation, being bullied, not being accepted by peers etc. Some people can handle this, others can’t.

          With Islamists, religious teaching by an influential figure is often part of it. Young men see their parents living comfortable Western lives and that jibes with the purity of a message some may be hearing from a more extreme imam. Young people, no matter how intelligent, are often overly ideological, especially boys and young men.

          They go looking on the Internet for someone who speaks to their concerns and that’s where they come across the videos of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. He was killed in a raid in 2011 but is still the biggest influence on disaffected young Muslim men in the US.

          He speaks to their feelings of disempowerment, disillusionment etc and gives them a way to fight back.

          The success of Trump has led to an increase in the expression of various kinds of prejudice and bigotry, including that against Muslims. This increases the number of people who have negative feelings about themselves and the world around them. Some go searching for answers on-line, some find Awlaki, and some are inspired to follow his message.

          Any increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric by a political leader gives the extremists an opportunity to say, “I told you so. They hate you. They hate all Muslims. This is the true face of America. There is no hope for you. You must fight for Islam. It is the righteous thing to do.” etc.

          Trump has given the recruiters another tool to use in encouraging potential jihadis that the right thing to do is to fight and die for Islam.

          He’s also made it more difficult to form alliances with those he needs most to bring peace to the Middle East. Do you think his actions have, for example, made Iran more or less likely to attack US allies in the region? Just calling Iran a failed state is extremely insulting. Whatever else Iran is, it’s not a failed state.

          • Yakaru says:

            Yes. And he’s making it much harder to have an already difficult public debate. He has given bigots and closet bigots all around the world permission to speak stupidly in public. And given that his Muslim ban — which is exactly what it is supposed to look like to his mob — is not even an attempt at a solution to the problem.

            So now with elections looming in Europe, right wing populists have permission to parade their bigotry and whip up the masses with promises of pointless and counterproductive revenge.

          • Ken says:

            All great points, Heather, but you did leave out the important justice dimension, because we know a large proportion of the recruits are not very religious. Particularly the Western recruits often simply aren’t fighting and dying for Islam, but for the many Muslims who they perceive have been wronged. Much of this injustice comes from Western violence in the ME, but is being compounded by Trump’s rhetorical targeting of so many, even if not all, Muslims, and making life harder for refugees, who certainly aren’t thinking about trips to Disney or any other holidays in the States, but about the survival of their families. And Trump adding that we should have stolen Iraqi oil when we had a chance is just another reason for them to claim the US is at war with all Muslims, rather than just jihadis.

          • Yes, those are major themes the recruiters play on. A lot of it is about standing up for your fellow Muslims. I’m not sure how I didn’t mention them.

            The taking of the oil one is another that both McCain and Graham on the GOP side have joined others in talking about. It would also be a war crime if the US did it.

            The recruiters take disaffected young people and give them a purpose, and they’re skilled at knowing which buttons to push. It’s different for every person.

    • You’re channelling a banned commenter! Or perhaps the authoritarian/regressive left who I frequently decry. Is this humour j.a.m? 🙂

      In case it isn’t, I’ve never said there was only one reason for terrorism, and have always given multiple ones.

  3. Shaokang Yuan says:

    Wonder what Asra Nomani would say about this? She seemed pretty adamant about not calling it a Muslim ban on Fox News… :/

    • Yeah. And technically she’s correct. But I suspect it’s as much of a Muslim ban as Trump thinks he can get away with. And I note there are no Trump offices in any of the seven targeted countries.

      I like Asra a lot and she’s been very supportive of my posts on women in Islam, especially around clothing, which I appreciate. I don’t understand her support for Trump though, which I told her directly while, of course, supporting her right to her own opinion.

      • nicky says:

        Trump appears to stand up to Islam, muslims, Islamic terrorism, etc. (the distinctions are not always that clear among his supporters). I’m convinced that appearance is a great part of his appeal for many (including Asra, it seems).

  4. This Trevor Noah/Comedy Central video makes some good points about Trump’s reaction to terrorism:

    • Ken says:

      Sheesh, as Noah says, it is disgusting that Trump’s so-called anti-terrorism efforts will specifically ignore the majority of actual terrorists in the US, ie white terrorists. I haven’t verified this and would really like it to be untrue, but it’s just so believable isn’t it.

      • I don’t know whether it’s true either, though I’d be surprised if they’d say it if it wasn’t. Of course, there could be some nuance they’re not mentioning as well, like different groups tackling different motivations.

  5. Ken says:

    Of topic, but this should be interesting to your readers, in both good and bad ways!

    • I’ve been seeing this series advertised on CNN for a few weeks now and am planning to watch it. However, there’s already a lot about it I have difficulty with, such as there seems to be an underlying premise that all belief systems are valid. Obviously, I’ll hold off on judging until I see it.

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