On Friday morning, the President of the United States tweeted about a two-day-old Washington Examiner article with an unsubstantiated claim from one anonymous rancher.
“There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico,” the rancher had told the newspaper. Then, without offering further proof, the rancher said that “people, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across.”
Trump quoted the line about prayer rugs, adding: “People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise.”
The anonymous rancher’s comment about prayer rugs — one that has now been repeated by the president to support his proposed border wall during the partial government shutdown — is similar to the claims of a conspiracy theory that has long been popular with far-right and anti-Muslim figures and publications. And the rumor itself has been invoked to support a larger, debunked claim from a far-right group that Islamic State operatives have established a massive training camp at the border.
It is a claim that conflates an item used by some practicing Muslims with a sign of terrorists — the false implication being that any association with the Islamic faith is itself worthy of suspicion.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the meme was “Islamophobic.”
“It exploits the Islamophobia promoted by the president himself,” Hooper told The Washington Post, “and it dog whistles that anything associated with Islam is somehow connected to terrorism.”
“Even if there were prayer rugs at the border, so what? That isn’t any indication of anything expect that there may have been a Muslim trying to cross the border,” he added, noting that Trump is simply “trying to distract from his own legal and political problems.”