President Trump has had a lot to say about the Islamic State, vowing during his inauguration speech to eradicate the terrorist group and calling its fighters “sneaky, dirty rats” during an interview this week. But the Islamic State has been oddly quiet about Trump.
The militant organization, which is known for flooding social media with elaborately produced messages and videos, has only made a few, fleeting references so far to a president whose anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies would seem to represent a propaganda boon to Islamist groups.
An Islamic State video released last month includes footage of Trump ducking and being pulled away from a podium in response to an unseen threat, images selected to show the president in a cowering pose. Another includes Trump in a larger collection of images of world leaders.
The absence of more material on Trump from the Islamic State has puzzled analysts, especially given that al-Qaeda has gone in the other direction and mocked the new American leader in high-profile propaganda releases.
An expert on Islamic State media said the group appears to be holding fire deliberately, at least for now. “I think they’re just waiting for the right time,” said Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London.
The group may be waiting in part because social media channels frequented by hard-line Islamists are already awash with Trump material. “He’s doing enough damage without them having to add anything,” Winter said. “His comments on torture, his comments on Muslim people – people are talking about this already.”
But Winter, who closely follows the organization’s media operations, said he expects the quiet approach to end when the Islamic State – which has lost territory and members under mounting military pressure -- believes a Trump-centered propaganda campaign can have maximum impact.
“I have no doubt that they have massive amounts of archival footage of him saying terrible things,” Winter said. The Trump embargo “could change tomorrow with a two-hour feature film.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has already devoted significant media attention to Trump, Winter said, including a two-page spread in the group’s Arabic language magazine. The article carries a headline that Trump shocked the world by becoming president, Winter said, and predicts that Americans will come to have a grim association with the day they woke to realize Trump had won.
“The Americans will remember 11/9 the way they remembered 9/11,” the article says, according to Winter.