On Saturday, Trump claimed at a rally that on Sept. 11, 2001, “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering” the attacks on the World Trade Center. Confronted the next day by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos with the reality that there was no evidence this ever happened, Trump doubled down, “It was on television. I saw it. … There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering.” Afterward, he retweeted a phony chart that exaggerated the odds that the killer of a white person would be black by a modest 65 percent. Not to be outdone, on Monday Ben Carson backed up Trump, saying he too “saw the film” of New Jerseyans cheering the falling towers.
From his presidential announcement speech, when Trump said Mexico was sending “rapists” over the border, the Donald has not only lied repeatedly, but, when confronted, again and again claimed evidence to support his lies. When Fox News asked him to support that claim, he cited “Border Patrol, people that I deal with, that I talk to, they say this is what’s happening.” He based his false claim that the White House wants to bring more than 250,000 refugees rather than 10,000, on a “pretty good source.” He claimed he was “hearing … from other people” that there are three times more illegal immigrants in the United States than official estimates.
It’s all eerily similar to a claim made by a U.S. senator in Wheeling, W.Va., 65 years ago: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 [State Department employees] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party.” Sen. Joe McCarthy never revealed where he got that list; the number changed from 205 all the way down to seven, and he never provided any concrete evidence. But, as Trump knows, McCarthy’s lack of evidence was no hindrance to tapping into the fears of a portion of the U.S. electorate. In those days, communists were coming for you; now, Muslims and immigrants are, and in both cases, the U.S. government won’t stop them. The message remains: Be afraid. The more that people buy into the message, the worse off America is.