As legal action loomed regarding his now-frozen ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, President Trump offered an impassioned defense of his actions Monday, telling military leaders that he was determined to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” from striking the homeland.
“We need strong programs so that people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in, not people who want to destroy us and destroy our country,” Trump said during remarks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Trump appeared at a base that is the headquarters of both the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Special Operations Command, a major nerve center against terrorism. His remarks served as part pep talk, as he promised “beautiful new equipment" for the military, as well as a recounting of what drove his highly controversial order to temporarily bar people from seven Muslim majority countries and refugees from entering the United States.
“We’re up against an enemy that celebrates death and totally worships destruction,” Trump said. “You’ve seen that. ISIS is on a campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world. Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland.”
Trump recounted a series of terrorists attacks in the United States, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Boston Marathon bombing and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. And he said terrorist attacks are rampant across Europe.
“All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” Trump said. “And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
He did not elaborate on what has not been reported or what the reasons might be for not reporting it.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer later told reporters that Trump believes attacks are not “unreported” but “underreported.”
“He felt members of the media don’t always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered,” Spicer told reporters traveling on Air Force One. “Protests will get blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage.”
In his remarks, Trump also heaped praise on the military and its “legendary warriors” and promised a new infusion of resources.
“You’re going to have the finest equipment known to man,” hesaid.
He chose a poignant backdrop for his remarks.
Centcom directs military operations with allies and partners in the Middle East and Central Asia. SOCOM is tasked with planning operations against terrorist networks.
Centcom recently oversaw a raid by U.S. Special Forces on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen. A Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, 36, was killed, becoming the first known U.S. combat casualty under Trump.
Trump made no mention of the episode in his public remarks.
Before delivering his address, Trump had lunch on the base with troops of varied experience levels and ranks. He was applauded upon entering the room and made small talk, including about Sunday night’s Super Bowl game, during a portion of the proceedings that the media was allowed to watch.
“Tom Brady, he cemented his place, right?” Trump said, referring the quarterback for the New England Patriots, who led a comeback unprecedented in Super Bowl history against the Atlanta Falcons.
Trump also kidded a muscular soldier, asking: “Think I could lift as much as you?”
The dining room had six tables with eight chairs each, where five military personnel from all four branches were mixed with the White House staff. Most of the enlistees wore camouflage fatigues.
Trump asked several of them whether they plan to remain in the military, urging some who said they were not certain to do so.
"C'mon, you have to stay," he told one.