The Department of Homeland Security definitively debunked the persistent right-wing media conspiracy theory that Islamic State fighters have attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the rumor is not supported by any "credible intelligence" and knocking the claim that the terrorists have been apprehended at the border as "categorically false."
What began early this summer as an unsubstantiated claim from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) that "people that are coming [across the U.S.-Mexico border] from states like Syria that have substantial connections back to terrorist regimes and terrorist operations," (a claim PolitiFact Texas rated "Pants on Fire"), has morphed into a full-blown right-wing conspiracy theory. Conservative media and elected officials are hyping fears that members of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group are utilizing the U.S.-Mexico border to enter the U.S. and launch terrorist attacks, a chorus that has only grown louder in the ensuing months to attack immigration reform.
In September, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) claimed to have seen information detailing "four individuals trying to cross through the Texas border who were apprehended at two different stations that do have ties to known terrorists organizations in the Middle East," a story subsequently hyped by Fox News. Nearly a month later, the number had jumped from four terrorists allegedly apprehended to 10.
Fox News' On The Record provided a platform to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) who claimed to have first-hand knowledge of the terrorists crossing the border. Host Greta Van Susteren replied to Hunter's allegations by asking, "Do you have any information, or any evidence, that they are actually coming in the southern border now?" And Hunter responded, "Yes. ... I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas," citing information he'd received from border patrol agents.
But the right-wing talking point is "categorically false," according to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security. On October 8, DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron refuted the rumor that Islamic State terrorists had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, telling The New Republic:
Fox News used doctored video of an interview with President Obama to claim his description of briefings he received on the night of the Benghazi attack contrasts with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's. In reality, their accounts are consistent.
Panetta discussed the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi during a September 7 interview with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. The Factor -- and subsequently the October 8 edition of Fox & Friends -- exploited the interview to revive the debunked claim that Obama didn't describe the Benghazi attacks as terrorism and conclude "the administration did not want to talk about terror." To make their point, each program featured a clip of the president's interview with O'Reilly in February in which the Fox host asked the president about the "terror" designation. The clip egregiously omits Obama's response to the dialogue, in which the president explicitly says, "When somebody is attacking our compound ... that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened."
Here's a more complete transcript of the the February 2 interview [omitted portion in bold]:
O'REILLY: Did he tell you, Secretary Panetta, it was a terrorist attack?
OBAMA: You know what he told me was that there was an attack on our compound...
O'REILLY: He didn't tell you [...] he didn't use the word "terror?"
OBAMA: You know, in -- in the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what's happening on the ground, do we have eyes on it, how can we make sure our folks are secure...
O'REILLY: Because I just want to get this on the record...
OBAMA: So, I...
O'REILLY: -- did he tell you it was a terror attack?
OBAMA: Bill -- and what I'm -- I'm answering your question. What he said to me was, we've got an attack on our compound. We don't know yet...
O'REILLY: No terror attack?
OBAMA: -- we don't know yet who's doing it. Understand, by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound...
OBAMA: -- that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened.
Fox has spent more than two years and 244 segments propping up baseless allegations that the White House engaged in a Benghazi "cover-up" with accusations that the administration waited weeks to admit to the attacks were "terror" or a "terrorist act," though in reality, Obama called the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" during his Rose Garden speech on September 12, the morning after the attacks and repeated the reference twice the next day, during speeches in Colorado and Nevada.
From the October 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the October 6 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The New York Post has settled a lawsuit about a front page that the paper ran shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing on which it highlighted two "Bag Men" it claimed were being sought authorities.
Fox News' Martha MacCallum falsely suggested the White House has failed to acknowledge the connection between the Khorasan group, the terrorist organization recently targeted along with the Islamic State (ISIS) by U.S. airstrikes, and Al Qaeda -- ignoring a statement from President Obama doing just that.
During the September 30 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum and contributor Stephen Hayes discussed whether the White House had "misunderstood the evolution of Al Qaeda" with respect to ISIS and the Khorasan group. Speculating as to why many people had not previously heard of the Khorasan group, MacCallum asked why "the White House doesn't want to call" the Khorasan group Al Qaeda:
But in a September 23 statement on the U.S. airstrikes in Syria, Obama specifically referenced the Khorasan group's affiliation with the terrorist organization, noting that it consisted of "seasoned al Qaeda operatives" (emphasis added):
OBAMA: Last night, we also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorasan Group. And once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.
From the September 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News hyped fears that an influx of immigrants from the Middle East could pose a terrorism threat for the U.S., advocating for greater immigration from English-speaking countries. But Fox's report parrots a study released by the anti-immigration group, the Center for Immigration Studies, and ignored the fact that the growth of Middle East immigrants in the U.S. was modest when compared to other regions.
The September 25 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto cited data that shows 41.3 million "legal and illegal" immigrants currently in the United States and stoked fears over "where a lot of them are coming from." Cavuto highlighted the increased immigration from countries in the Middle East from 2010 to 2013, lamenting the "disproportionate" number of immigrants of Arab descent compared to immigrants from western countries. Guest and conservative pundit Pat Buchanan suggested that the rise in immigrants from the Middle East would increase terror threats in the United States.
Buchanan asserted that "you've got to look with more concern at folks coming out of there than you would look at folks, for example, native born Brits coming over to the United States who speak English perfectly," because the majority of terrorism is committed "by children of immigrants and immigrants themselves from Islamic countries":
Fox News continued to hype reports of an imminent Islamic State terrorist plot against U.S. and Parisian public transportation hours after the U.S. intelligence community discredited the rumor as "total bunk."
News broke on September 25 that Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had informed reporters at the United Nations of "accurate reports from Baghdad" detailing a terrorist plot by the group calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in advanced stages against subways in the U.S. and Paris, France.
The prime minister's remarks quickly spread across American media, but by early afternoon, U.S. intelligence officials had roundly discredited the rumor. As NBC News reported, "Virtually every major U.S. law enforcement agency and intelligence agency said they had no evidence of any such plot. The report is viewed as 'total bunk,' according to a senior intelligence official."
CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted:
Yet over an hour later, Fox News continued to hype fears over the discredited plot. On The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson repeated the Iraqi prime minister's warning despite noting that an Obama administration official had not confirmed the report, cautioning, "Apparently the plot has not been thwarted."
Rather than acknowledging the fact that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies had discredited reports of the plot, Carlson simply said, "The other threat we heard about today from the Iraqi prime minister, which, by the way, the FBI says this administration doesn't know anything about it, but the word was that the attacks could be imminent on our subway systems here and in Paris."
Right-wing media are claiming that President Obama's decision to target the Islamic State and Khorasan terror groups with airstrikes is a political move designed to give Democrats a boost in the 2014 midterm elections.
From the September 24 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News contributor Steve Moore dismissed President Obama's U.N. address on climate change arguing that terror threats are "a security reason for the United States to develop our own oil and gas," ignoring a decade of warnings from the U.S. military calling climate change a national security threat and a terrorism threat multiplier.
On September 23, President Obama spoke at the United Nations Climate Summit calling for a more "ambitious" agreement to tackle climate change globally.
During the September 23 edition of Happening Now, Fox contributor Steve Moore complained that "the president is talking about climate change and reducing our output of oil and gas, when if we want to undermine and destroy the finances of ISIS and other terrorist networks, we should produce as much oil and gas and hurt them in the pocketbook":
But Moore's recommendations only serve to increase the threat of climate change by increasing our dependence on fossil fuels and undermining United States energy security. A report from the Energy Security Leadership Council determined that the addressing "the economy's heavy reliance on petroleum" is the key challenge for achieving energy security in the U.S.
Military officials have also warned of the negative impact of climate change since 2003. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Defense released the 2014 version of their Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) highlighting that "climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large" and that its impacts are "threat multipliers" that "can enable terrorist activity." From the Review:
The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.
The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions - conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
Moore, the Heritage Foundation's chief economist, also ignored a first of its kind statement from U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, in which he labeled the threat of climate change as "one of the most important challenges of our time." Lew said during a September 22 interview on the economic costs of climate change, that "the economic cost of climate change is not limited to one sector of our economy. It threatens our agricultural productivity, our transportation infrastructure and power grids, and drives up the incidence of costly healthcare problems." Lew stressed that "global action is imperative, and it is a good investment in global economic growth."
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Right-wing media accused President Obama of "advising" and "strategizing" for the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in reaction to reports that Obama said the group had made a strategic error in provoking support for U.S. military action against them.
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.