President Trump and his friend “Jim” may have a little explaining to do.
Speaking at a conservative political conference near Washington on Friday, Trump invoked Jim, no last name provided, to illustrate what has happened to France as a result of terrorism. The president suggested that his friend had stopped his regular travel to Paris because it “is no longer Paris.”
“Take a look at Nice and Paris,” Trump said, as he began to weave the yarn. “I have a friend, he's a very, very substantial guy. He loves the City of Lights, he loves Paris.
“For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris. It was automatic with him and his family,” the president continued from the Conservative Political Action Conference stage at National Harbor in Maryland. “Hadn't seen him in a while, and I said, 'Jim let me ask you a question: How's Paris doing?'”
Jim replied, according to the president: “Paris? I don't go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.”
The moral of the story, Trump said, was that what is happening in Paris shouldn't be allowed to happen in the United States. Without naming it, Trump implied that terrorist attacks in Nice and Paris in the past several years have changed the cities, perhaps making them unsafe.
“That was four years — four, five years, hasn't gone there,” Trump added. “He wouldn't miss it for anything, now he doesn't even think in terms of going there.
“Take a look at what's happening to our world, folks,” Trump continued. “And we have to be smart. We have to be smart. We can't let it happen to us.”
“So let me state this as clearly as I can, we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump continued.
It wasn't long before his remarks prompted a response from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Hours after the president spoke, she directed her message to Trump and “his friend Jim.”
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) February 24, 2017
In the Eiffel Tower, “we celebrate the dynamism and the spirit of openness of #Paris with Mickey & Minnie,” the message said, along with a photo of Hidalgo posing with the two Disney cartoon characters.
On Saturday, French President François Hollande backed the mayor. “I think that it is never good to show the smallest defiance toward an allied country,” Hollande told journalists at an agricultural trade fair, according to Reuters. “I wouldn't do it with the United States, and I'm urging the U.S. president not to do it with France.”
France was hit by several terrorist attacks over the past two years in Paris, Nice and elsewhere. On Saturday, Hollande acknowledged that there “is terrorism, and we must fight it together.”
Counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and its European allies has been strained since Trump’s inauguration. Many of Europe’s counterterrorism strategies largely rely on counter- and de-radicalization programs, focusing on the inclusion of individuals who might be particularly vulnerable to Islamic State propaganda.
Security experts in Europe have strongly condemned Trump’s recent efforts to stop certain refugees from entering the United States as counterproductive and alienating. They consider the easy availability of firearms in the United States to be a much more pressing concern — an argument that was echoed Saturday by Hollande.
“I won't make comparisons, but here people don't have access to guns,” Hollande said, referring to strict gun-possession laws in France. “Here, you don't have people with guns opening fire on the crowd simply for the satisfaction of causing drama and tragedy.”
Friday’s comments weren’t the first time — even this week — that Trump has gotten into a row with a European country over his denunciations of terrorism in their countries.
Last weekend at a rally in Florida, Trump pointed to what he suggested was an incident in Sweden on Friday night that had never occurred. He later sought to clarify his comments by saying that he was speaking generally about rising crime in the country, which he blamed — without evidence — on refugees.
Trump's comments prompted head scratching among Swedes and widespread mockery online.
And former European officials also sought to defend the country from Trump's undue criticism.
“Dear @realDonaldTrump, Sweden is immigration friendly, international & liberal. One of the most prosperous, richest, safest places on earth,” Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister of Finland, said on Twitter.
It later became clear that Trump was referring to a segment on Fox News about crime in Sweden, which featured the disputed work of a filmmaker.
Trump lightheartedly acknowledged the incident Friday at CPAC but didn't back down.
“I took a lot of heat on Sweden,” Trump said, to laughter from the friendly crowd. “And then a day later, I said has anybody reported what's going on? And it turned out that they didn't — not too many of them did.
“Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden, great country, great people, I love Sweden. But they understand. The people over there understand I'm right,” Trump continued.
Riots broke out in Sweden's capital days after Trump's comments, but criminologists say that blaming immigrants for crime in Sweden would be an exaggeration.
Rick Noack in London contributed to this report.