President Donald Trump on Monday morning appeared to seize on reports in right-wing media that erroneously connected the migrant caravan marching toward the southern border of the United States with the terrorist group ISIS.
In a tweet, the President warned that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” the caravan of thousands of Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence.
The President did not support his claim with any evidence. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday afternoon that Trump “absolutely” had evidence to indicate there are Middle Easterners in the caravan. Sanders, however, did not provide specific information on the matter and it was still not clear what evidence Trump had to indicate the presence of such individuals in the caravan.
But, for days, right-wing media outlets have suggested that ISIS and other criminal groups could infiltrate the caravan and ultimately gain entry into the US.
The reports stemmed from an October 11 article in the prominent Guatemala newspaper Prensa Libre which quoted Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales saying the country’s law enforcement had captured approximately 100 people linked to terrorism, including ISIS. The story did not specify the time frame in which those people were discovered or detained.
Morales was speaking at the Conference for Prosperity and Security in Central America last week in Washington DC, at which he spoke at length about the national security situation in his country. Morales said during his speech that “we have not only detained them within our territory, but they have been deported to their country of origin.”
On October 18, the conservative organization Judicial Watch picked up Prensa Libre’s report about Morales’ remarks at the conference and posted its own story with the headline, “100 ISIS Terrorists Caught in Guatemala as Central American Caravan Heads to U.S.”
“In a startling revelation, Guatemala’s president announced in the country’s largest newspaper that nearly 100 ISIS terrorists have been apprehended in the impoverished Central American nation,” the Judicial Watch article read. “Why should Americans care about this? A caravan of Central American migrants is making its way north.”
From there, the story spread throughout the right-wing media.
The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website prone to peddling conspiracy theories, posted a story with the headline, “100 ISIS Terrorists Caught in Guatemala as Migrant Caravan of Military-Aged Males Marches to U.S.” Others picked the story up. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs called it a “full-blown national security crisis.”
And on Monday, the reports jumped to the Fox News airwaves.
In the 6 a.m. hour of “Fox & Friends,” which Trump has long been known to watch regularly, co-host Pete Hegseth brought the issue up while discussing the caravan.
“You got the president of Guatemala saying to a local newspaper down there just last week, they caught over a hundred ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to use this caravan,” Hegseth said, giving the impression that the individuals linked to terrorism were arrested in one fell swoop as they attempted to infiltrate the caravan.
Other Fox News guests throughout the morning continued to push the idea that the caravan of migrants could include those belonging to ISIS.
Soon after, at 8:37 a.m. ET, the President posted his tweet declaring that the “criminals” and “unknown Middle Easterners” are “mixed in” the caravan.
In a telephone interview Monday morning with CNN, Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, stood by his organization’s coverage of the caravan.
Fitton said the US should be “greatly concerned about who is in the caravan” and said it was a “bunk idea” that border officials “would be able to screen out terrorists.”
Asked what he thought about the idea that his group’s coverage informed the President’s thinking, Fitton said, “I’m glad someone in the administration is paying attention to the national security threat on the border.”
This is not the first time that Trump has expressed conspiratorial thoughts after erroneous reports circulated in right-wing news. The President regularly watches Fox News and often tweets the network’s opinion coverage out as if it were fact.
A spokesperson for Fox News did not respond to a request for comment Monday morning.