It seemed pretty fortuitous for Donald Trump.
He left heads scratching when he told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Florida this weekend: “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? They took in large numbers [of refugees]. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
A nice play to anti-immigrant hysteria, but there was one hitch—nothing had happened in Sweden the previous night. Swedish activists had a field day with the bizarre flub, even holding a mock “Pray for Sweden” vigil to taunt Trump.
So it seemed a godsend for the president when an immigrant district of Stockholm exploded into riots just three days later.
Media reports all agree the unrest in the Rinkeby neighborhood began with the arrest of a local youth for drug possession—although no report makes clear what the substance in question was. A police station was attacked with bricks, some fires set and vehicles smashed. But there were no injuries reported, and no rioters arrested.
In recent years, Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe, which has fueled tensions and a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. But it seems like Trump is the one who got played here.
Sweden’s the Local traces his flub to a Fox News report on a film claiming that immigration had led to a rise in crime in Sweden. But the film is mired in controversy, with interviewed Swedish police officers saying it distorted their claims and took their quotes out of context. As if it weren’t embarrassing enough that the president of the United States is getting his talking points from Fox rather than CIA briefings—and then can’t even get the facts straight.
But there is a particularly grim ironic twist to the story.
It turns out there really was a recent terrorist attack in Sweden—but immigrants were the intended victims, not the perpetrators. A refugee processing center in Gothenburg was attacked with a fire-bomb on Jan. 5, leaving a staff member injured. Three suspects, identified as affiliated with the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, were arrested for the attack.
Not quite the thing Donald Trump had in mind, and the attack made practically no international headlines.
It seems refugees in Sweden face police pressure in the guise of drug enforcement (of the same kind that just led to riots in a Parisian suburb), and now also organized attacks from the radical right.
So Trump’s garbled exploitation of the Swedish immigration controversy seems like a pretty classic case of blaming the victim.