Soon after EgyptAir flight MS804 crashed on Thursday, Donald Trump knew what had happened. He tweeted "looks like yet another terrorist attack. Airplane departed from Paris. When willl we get tough, smart, and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!" Hours later at a fund-raiser in New Jersey for Governor Chris Christie, Trump claimed the plane was "blown out of the sky" and maintained "you're 100 percent wrong" if you don't agree with him.
Now well over 72 hours since the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's tweet, the number of terrorist organizations claiming credit for the attack stands at: zero (0).
It still is possible the airline was victimized by a terrorist attack, and a little more likely a terrorist group will claim to be responsible. As the GEICO commercial would put it: "if you're a terrorist group, you brag about the murder of innocent civilians. It's what you do."
Frightening civilians and governments is what terrorist groups do- it's why it's called terror. And Donald Trump is making it much easier to do so. Asked on Morning Joe about Trump's tweet, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted it is"always better to wait until you actually know what the facts are before you open up."
It's not always better, though, if your campaign is based upon fear. And it is having its intended effect, politically and otherwise. In December, Hillary Clinton claimed Trump "is becoming ISIS's best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists."
Politifact found no evidence to substantiate that charge, which it rated "false." Nonetheless, this past Thursday, Clinton maintained
When you say we're going to bar all Muslims, you are sending a message to the Muslim world and you're also sending a message to the terrorists because we now do have evidence. We have seen how Donald Trump is being used to essentially be a recruiter for more people to join the cause of terrorism.
Returning to the issue, Politifact on Thursday revealed
Not long after Clinton’s initial comments, Al Shabaa, the East African affiliate of the al-Qaida terrorist group, released a 51-minute video telling "Muslims of the West" that they are not welcome in countries like the United States. Ten minutes into the video, it says the United States has a history of "slavery, segregation, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan, and tomorrow, it will be a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps."
It then cuts to Trump calling for a temporary but "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S," according to SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadist propaganda, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. It urges American Muslims to leave the United States and join the group.
Later, on March 24, Newsweek reported that an ISIS video released in the wake of the Brussels attack featured an audio clip from Trump.
"Brussels was one of the great cities, one of the most beautiful cities of the world 20 years ago. It was amazing, actually, and safe. And now it's a horror show. It's an absolute horror show," Trump says in the video, as ISIS lets the phrase "absolute horror show" repeatedly echo and fade.
Clinton's initial statement in December "was false at the time," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "It’s true now."
On the same day Politifact re-examined the issue, Donald Trump jumped the gun, boasting of "another terrorist attack" before all the facts were in. Whether impulsive or planned, the remark was a gift for Al-Qaeda and ISIL and, Trump prays, for himself.
Given Donald Trump's penchant for shooting from the hip and speaking without knowledge of a situation, his response to the horrific news of last Thursday was not unexpected. Nor was it at odds with someone whose slogan "Make America Great Again" suggests a loathing of the nation as it is. Nor is it quixotic for someone who can succeed only by ginning up the fear his campaign is based on.