Opinion writer
At a Florida rally on Feb. 18, President Trump listed several countries with large numbers of refugees that were recently struck by terror attacks. "You look at what's happening last night in Sweden," Trump said. Swedish authorities are not aware of any such incident that night. (Reuters)

The Post reports:

During a rally Saturday in Florida, [President] Trump referred to several countries that have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees and that have recently been the target of attacks. “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?” Trump went on to refer to Paris, Nice, France, and Brussels, European cities where attacks have occurred in the past two years.

Trump later tweeted — you cannot make this up — that he based his remark on a Fox News report, most likely Tucker Carlson’s interview with an anti-immigrant crank who claims immigrants are responsible for a soaring crime rate in Sweden and the Swedish police are covering it up. Doesn’t Trump know not to trust and repeat “fake news”?

The Chicago Tribune explains the false connection between crime and immigrants in Sweden, which “doesn’t align with actual crime statistics in Sweden.”

The idea of a dramatic increase in rapes because of refugees has been debunked. Sweden does have a high rate of rape, but that is attributed to a broader legal definition of rape and a higher rate of reporting among women compared with other countries.

Henrik Selin, a political scientist and deputy director of the Swedish Institute, told the New York Times that in a study of negative news reports relating to refugees in Sweden he found that they “were highly exaggerated and not based in facts.” He also said: “Some of the stories were very popular to spread in social media by people who have the same kind of agenda — that countries should not receive so many refugees.”

Martin Gelin, a U.S. correspondent for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said in a radio interview: “Far-right media in America have for a long time created a false narrative about a crime wave caused by immigrants and refugees in Sweden. … It’s simply not true.”

Trump insisted on digging his hole deeper. He tweeted: “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!” Actually, Fox News was trying to say it was not working but unfortunately latched onto a disreputable source. (The Post, like other legitimate new sources, accurately reported, “The influx of refugees has not come without problems in Sweden, but mainstream politicians and immigration experts say the criticism has been disproportionate. In summer 2016, Swedish embassies were tasked to counter rumors or false information about Sweden’s experience with taking in large numbers of immigrants.”) We’d be curious to hear the horror stories Trump thinks have occurred in Sweden which justify his conclusion that it’s a nightmare.

President Trump pauses while speaking during a news conference in the White House last week. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

To top it off, Trump’s staff tried to cover his tracks with a silly fib: “White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, addressing the matter on Sunday, told reporters that Trump ‘was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident.'” Actually, her boss admitted he was talking about Sweden.

The episode underscores some troubling patterns.

First, Fox Non-News evening shows for years have featured stories, true or not, that feed right-wing narratives. They’ve recycled whatever anti-immigrant material they can, indifferent to facts (e.g., net immigration is in the direction of Mexico, immigrants have low crime rates, sanctuary cities do not have high crime rates). Fox News is willing to put on air  all sorts of things to confirm its bent, including Trump who peddled the birther nonsense on its programs; Fox News viewers in turn seem to believe just about anything they see that confirms their anti-immigrant prejudices.

Second, the president, who could get the best and most up-to-date data from his own executive branch prefers to pick up Fox Non-News, takes it as gospel and justifies his own policies based, in part, about the gibberish he finds there. This is why Stephen Miller, a senior adviser infamous for peddling anti-immigrant nonsense from groups such as FAIR, fits in so well in this administration. The administration is post-factual. As a result, Trump is an easy mark for those proffering “data” (as in the 3 million to 5 million illegal voters, who don’t exist) that support his assumptions. If Fox News can spin him, certainly aides, unfriendly countries and just about anyone can.

Third, the White House staff will say just about anything, even contradicting Trump or telling ridiculous lies (e.g., about Trump’s crowd size and electoral victory margin), to excuse Trump gaffes. There is nothing new about a White House defending its boss, but in Trump’s case this requires near-constant excuse mongering — some of which contradicts excuses coming from Trump or other aides. Unfortunately, a Trump aide’s job requires a willingness to say preposterous things that are easily rebutted.

In sum, Trump emerged out of the sludge of right-wing media which spawned a variety of fake conspiracy theories (birtherism), promoted wildly inaccurate stereotypes about immigrants and bred a victim mentality that told viewers they had been shafted by “elites.” Hey, it’s a business and that media outlet found a niche. Unfortunately, we have a president who doesn’t know it’s a niche, cannot tell fact from fiction (or doesn’t want to) and cannot be swayed by reason. No wonder Fox News viewers are his strongest cheerleaders.