During his rally in Melbourne, Florida on February 18, President Donald Trump claimed something nefarious happened in Sweden the night before. That was news to Swedes, who had no idea what he was referring to. Trump later confirmed what many suspected: he was referring to a Fox News piece that aired the night before, although he didn’t make that clear in what he said.
Trump also made another comment about Sweden on February 20. “Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT,” Trump wrote.
The Swedish embassy offered to educate the Trump Administration on Swedish immigration policies.
Sweden, which has taken in over 200,000 refugees from the crises in the Middle East, was not attacked on February 17 as Trump had inferred. Although Trump’s comments might have been fodder for Twitter, he was referencing growing concerns about Sweden’s decision to welcome so many refugees, despite only being a country of less than 10 million people.
“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers,” Trump said at the rally. “They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris. We’ve allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing. So we’re going to keep our country safe.”
The Swedish government told The Local that it wasn’t happy with Trump’s comments and is demanding an explanation from the White House.
“Our embassy in Washington has been in contact with the US foreign affairs office to get clarification. We’re of course wondering [what he referred to],” a spokeswomn told The Local. “Let’s see if we get an answer from the embassy.”
This isn’t the first time the Trump Administration has suggested that an attack happened where it didn’t. Kellyanne Conway claimed there was a “Bowling Green Massacre” in Kentucky when there never was one.
Even though there was no attack in Sweden, here’s a look at what is behind his mention of the Scandinavian country.
1. Tucker Carlson Talked About Sweden’s Refugees on Fox News the Night Before Trump’s Rally
Twitter users linked Trump’s seemingly out-of-the-blue comment about Sweden to a report on refugees in Sweden that aired on Tucker Carlson Tonight on February 17. In the report, seen above, the show aired a clip from a documentary about refugee violence in Sweden by Ami Horowitz. Horowitz has been a favorite of the conservative media, appearing on Fox News and Brietbart in the past.
Back in December, Horowitz did an interview with Brietbart, claiming that he was beaten in a “no-go” area in Stockholm.
“We cross into it, and I would say not even fifteen, maybe five seconds after we crossed in, five guys approached me and my crew,” Horowitz told Brietbart. “They said to us, ‘You guys gotta get out of here right now.’ My crew, being Swedish, they turned around and they booked out. I, being stupid, decided I’m going to stay and try to figure this thing out with these guys.”
Below is a short film Horowitz made about his experiences in Sweden.
As The New York Times points out, Horowitz told Carlson, “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already.”
It’s not clear what Horowitz was referring to. There was a suicide bomber attack in 2010 in Stockholm, carried out by a Swedish citizen born in Iraq who followed Al Qaeda. However, this attack was five years before the current wave of refugees from the Middle East arrived.
Trump later confirmed on Twitter that he was referencing Carlson’s interview with Horowitz.
2. A Former Swedish Prime Minister Asked, ‘What Has He Been Smoking?’
As Swedes woke up Sunday morning, they were puzzled by Trump’s comments. Carl Bildt, a former Swedish Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister, even asked, “What has he been smoking?”
The Swedish government also has a Twitter account handled by a different Swede each week. The citizen using it this week said that there was no terror attack.
To clear things up, the Swedish news site Aftonbladet posted an article in English, listing almost everything that happened in the country on February 17. They listed one criminal activity, but it had nothing to do with terrorism. It was carjacking in Stockholm.
3. Trump Claimed There Was an Under-Reported Terrorist Attack in Sweden, but It Wasn’t Terror-Related
The Trump Administration was previously criticized in Sweden earlier this month for claiming that there was an under-reported terrorist attack in Malmo, Sweden in October 2016. According to The Local, Trump’s team was likely referring to an arson attack that caused smoke damage to a building used by an Iraqi cultural group.
In December, The Local reported that a judge determined that it was not terror-related, even though ISIS claimed responsibility for it.
“There are very high conditions that need to be met for something to be a terror crime. In my closing statement I said that the prosecution is far from that. And the district court clearly agreed with it,” defense attorney Lars Edman said after the decision.
The Malmo fire was listed among 78 terrorist attacks the administration believed went under-reported by the press. That list was also criticized by Rosie Ayliffe, who said her daughter was not killed by a terrorist in Australia, where police also determined that her daughter’s death wasn’t terrorism-related. Ayliffe has accused Australia’s far-right politicians of using her daughter’s death to push anti-immigration legislation there, even though police detirmined that her daughter’s murderer had an obsession with her daughter.
4. Sweden Has Taken in Over 200,000 Refugees From Crises in the Middle East
Sweden has a population of 9.5 million and has let in over 200,000 refugees from the crises in Iraq, Syria and throughout the Middle East. As The Huffington Post notes, the country has let in more refugees per capita than any other European country.
The decision to let in so many refugees has proven controversial for Sweden and the rest of Europe. In June 2016, The New York Times reported that the government finally began toughening rules for those seeking asylum. The legislation passed at the time forces refugees to prove they can financially support family members who enter Sweden. The rules also requires asylum-seekers who want permanent residencies and are over 25 to have completed high school.
Others saw these regulations as Sweden leaving behind its traditions as a welcoming nation.
“Long a leader in promoting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Sweden is now joining the race to the bottom,” Rebecca Riddell, Europe and Central Asia fellow at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times. “Sweden should not sacrifice the well-being of vulnerable children in an effort to make the country less attractive for asylum seekers.”
Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, has called for more control on refugees in the European Union. He called for a common asylum system across the EU.
“If we do not create a new common and sustainable asylum system, more countries will be forced to act unilaterally, which will hurt mobility, trade and, most of all, it will hurt the human beings who are fleeing,” Lofven said in March 2016. “We must move from chaos to control, otherwise we risk the European cooperation as we know it.”
Another concern in Sweden has been the apparent rise in rape since the country began welcoming in wave after wave of refugees. There were concerns about a high rate of rapes in Sweden dating back to 2012. In January 2016, The Guardian reported that wedish police were accused of covering up sexual harassment by refugees during a music festival in Stockholm and on New Year’s Eve in Malmo. Gadens Nyheter obtained police reports from the 2014 We Are Stockholm festival, which said that there were cases of sexual harassment during the event. However, an official police report said there were no cases.
Incidents like these have been seized upon by the far-right Swedish party the Sweden Democrats.
“There are not enough jobs for Swedish people, but there are more and more immigrants, hundreds a year coming into this town,” a 16-year-old supporter of the party told the Guardian in 2014. “We are not a racist or fascist party. There were racists and fascists when [Party Leader Jimmie Akesson] was a boy, but they have all gone.”
The concerns about refugees has also led to a possible “Swexit.” While support for leaving the EU is small compared to the U.K., where people voted to leave the EU, the U.K. think tank Demos released a study showing 25 percent of Swedes polled want to leave the EU. Thirty-two percent want Brussels’ power to be limited.
5. There Was a Wave of ‘Swedish Bashing’ in 2015, With an Increase in Negative Reporting
The wave of refugees entering Sweden came as more were pouring into all of Europe to escape the Syrian Civil War and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since Sweden was taking in many of these refugees, the country was the victim of “Swedish bashing,” as the Swedish Institute put it just a day before Trump’s comments.
“Much of the reporting was factual and true. There was a clear news story, people wanted to portray how Europe and Sweden could manage so many refugees at one time,” political scientist Henrik Selin at the Swedish Institute. “But we also saw, and we have seen since then, that there are other forces; people whose political agenda suggests they would like to tell the story of countries not being able to receive that many refugees, who seem to want to exaggerate problems.”
Selin suggested that politicians throughout Europe were using any bit of negative news coming out of Sweden as an excuse to support strict refugee policies.
“Sweden is a country that wants to have an influence in the world, and we do not want to be a country that is used for other political purposes,” Selin told Radio Sweden. “There are countries who’d like Sweden to be an element in their story about a failed state. It is not in our interest to support those kinds of stories that are not true.”
“I do not have a clue what [Trump] was referring to,” Selin told the New York Times on February 19. “Obviously, this could be connected to the fact that there has been a lot of negative reporting about Sweden, since Sweden has taken in a lot of refugees.”
In March, the Swedish Institute plans on issuing a report on how Sweden is perceived by seven other European countries.