Fact-Checking Trump's Claim That Acts of Terrorism Go Unreported

Getty Images
President Donald Trump

Trump and his team have cited only one example of a deadly terrorist attack anywhere going unreported: The nonexistent one in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

President Donald Trump made an unsupported assertion Monday that terrorist acts in Europe are going unreported. A look at the matter:

TRUMP: "All over Europe it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that."

___

THE FACTS: Trump and his team have cited only one example of a deadly terrorist attack anywhere going unreported, the one that didn't happen in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke about a Bowling Green "massacre" that didn't take place, correcting herself when she was called out on the error.

As for Trump's claim about Europe, it's probably true that you haven't heard of every attack on the continent that can be tied to terrorism. Scores if not hundreds happen every year. Many don't rise to the level of an international audience because they cause no casualties, or little or no property damage, or are carried out by unknown assailants for unclear reasons.

One exhaustive list is the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland. It lists 321 episodes of suspected or known terrorism in Western Europe alone in 2015. Many are anti-Muslim attacks against mosques, not the brand of terrorism Trump has expressed concern about. Many are attacks undertaken for right-wing or left-wing causes that have nothing to do with Islamic extremism or xenophobic attacks on mosques.

Among examples from 2015 that were largely under the radar of Americans:

—On Oct. 24, assailants set fire to the residence of a Socialist Justice Party member in Gothenburg, Sweden, one of series of attacks against the party that day.

—On Sept. 13, assailants set fire to the Whitton Methodist Church hall in Richmond, England, with no reported casualties and no one immediately claiming responsibility.

—On Jan. 17, gunmen opened fire on patrons at a bar in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, causing no casualties. Dissident Republicans were thought to have been behind the attack.

The database defines a terrorist act as one aimed at attaining political, religious, social or economic goals through coercion or intimidation of the public, outside acts of war.

The devastating attacks by Islamic extremists that year are also on the list, among them the murderous assault on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the even bloodier attack at Paris' Bataclan concert hall, the worst in a series of killings in one day. Those attacks and other deadly ones in Europe received saturation coverage for days.

But even the smaller, non-lethal acts of terrorism received coverage: The database itself is built from media reports.

___

THE WALKBACK

Trump made his claim before a broad audience on live television, while speaking at Central Command headquarters in Florida.

On Air Force One, before a smaller audience, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump did not really mean that terrorist attacks received no coverage. Trump's actual complaint, he said, was that such acts don't get enough attention.

"He felt that members of media don't always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered," Spicer said. "Like a protest gets blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn't necessarily get the same coverage."

The White House later released a list of 78 worldwide attacks it described as "executed or inspired by" IS. Most on the list did not get sufficient media attention, the White House said, without specifying which ones it considered underreported.

Attacks on the list that had high death tolls were given blanket coverage, such as the Brussels bombings in March, the San Bernardino, California, shootings in December 2015, and the Paris attacks in November 2015. Some with a smaller death toll, such as two attacks in Canada that killed one soldier each, were covered at the time and well known.

The White House did not point to any examples supporting Trump's contention that terrorist attacks were "not even being reported." Less than half of the 78 incidents the White House listed occurred in Europe.

comments powered by Disqus