Yet again, it appears as though President Trump’s favorite cable-news show is the source of his latest conspiracy theory.
The president began his Monday morning by firing off a trio of tweets on the thousands of asylum-seeking migrants traveling by caravan through Mexico towards the U.S., tossing in some unverified claims about Muslims for good measure.
Trump declared the situation “a national emergency” as the migrants approach the border, adding that “unknown Middle Easterners” have joined the group.
It was not immediately clear where Trump got his evidence that people from the Middle East were among those seeking to cross the border from Central American countries, but his baseless claim does echoes one made by his unofficial advisers on Fox & Friends—his favorite show—shortly before he fired off his tweets.
In a segment Monday morning, Trump-boosting co-host Pete Hegseth (who has advised the president through the TV screen before) claimed that members of ISIS are among those traveling in the migrant caravan, making it an issue that goes beyond “national sovereignty.”
“You got the President of Guatemala saying to a local newspaper down there just last week they caught over a hundred ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to use this caravan,” Hegseth claimed.
He was briefly interrupted by co-host Steve Doocy, who asked, “Are we sure that’s true?”
Nevertheless, Hegseth, who has previously lobbied for a Trump cabinet position, continued: “He talked to their local newspaper. We don’t know, it hasn’t been verified. Even one ISIS, even one poison pill is too many in a caravan like that.”
Just under two hours later, the president tweeted: “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy [sic]. Must change laws!”
Hegseth was apparently referencing a Daily Mail report that Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales boasted at a recent conference about capturing and deporting “close to 100” operatives of the Islamic State.
Morales declined to provide factual evidence for his claim, citing security reasons.
Additionally, there has been no official reporting to substantiate Morales’ comments, which were made on October 11—before the caravan even formed.
Morales made no connection to the migrant caravan in his remarks, and yet right-wing outlets like Gateway Pundit, Judicial Watch, and NewsMax all picked up the remarks—from a local Guatemalan newspaper story earlier this month—as evidence of ISIS having infiltrated the migrant caravan.
UPDATE: Later on Monday, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith refuted Trump’s tweet and, in turn, rebuked his colleagues’ claims from earlier that morning. “Fox News knows of no evidence to suggest the president is accurate on that matter,” he said. “And the president has offered no evidence to support what he has said.”
In his other two Monday morning tweets, Trump went further, announcing he is “cutting off, or substantially reducing” aid to three Central American nations—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—after they were unable to stop the caravan from progressing farther north. Though there were no official numbers, an early estimation puts the first caravan at about 7,000 people, while a second caravan of about 1,000 people have also left Honduras.
“We will now begin cutting off, or subsequently reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given them,” Trump wrote.
This is the second time the president threatened to cut off aid to those countries, who received about $500 million in funding from the U.S. last year, if they did not stop the asylum seekers.
But since Congress is not scheduled to return to Washington until after the midterm elections, it is not immediately clear how or when Trump would take unilateral action to cut such foreign aid.
The tweets reflected Trump’s use of the caravan to rally his base around anti-immigrant rhetoric before the midterm elections. In a final tweet he wrote: “Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally.”
The president also wrote last Thursday morning that he would “close our southern border” if the caravan tried to enter the U.S., and on Friday, at a rally in Arizona, Trump claimed the caravan contained some “bad people,” “criminals,” “not little angels,” and “tough, tough people.”
He did not mention supposedly “unknown Middle Easterners” at that rally.