Throughout his presidential campaign, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump made a number of controversial comments about race and religion, suggesting building a wall at the Mexican border, killing the families of terrorists, and banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Trump’s rhetoric regarding Muslims—perceived by many as being anti-Muslim—later figured prominently in key propaganda released by jihadi terror groups.
In recruitment videos, jihadists illustrate Trump as the “true face of America” and use his comments as a symbol of “a hidden American grudge against Islam and Muslims.” For example, Trump’s language was highlighted in a January 2016 video released by Al-Qaida’s branch in Somalia, Shabaab Al-Mujahideen – a violent transnational network responsible for numerous deadly attacks such as the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya in September 2013 – portraying him as a representative of American bigotry.
Although ISIS has not released any official videos or statements regarding Trump, some of its supporters on its top Deep Web forum began expressing their opinions about Trump, indicating that his rhetoric serves their cause. Not only did some of them feel that he should be the next U.S. president, but they also believe that he will be “the destroyer” of America – suggesting that his narrative will drive more Muslims to take action against the U.S. government and continue to develop and fuel an anti-American sentiment.
In a discussion on May 13, 2016, members of an elite Jihadis forum focused on the very issue of Trump’s presidential bid, indicating that they “want Trump to win,” and that he would be a “disaster to America.” While ISIS supporters have previously been rather quiet regarding Trump’s presidential candidacy and his alleged anti-Muslim comments, it now appears a number of ISIS supporters believe that the time has come to “support” Trump’s candidacy.
There was likely a delay in ISIS supporters commenting on this topic, now months after Trump made the initial remarks, because uncertainty existed as to whether he’d become the presumptive Republican nominee. Discussing comments made by a presidential candidate who was considered originally to have a very small chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination may have kept ISIS supporters quiet on the matter.
The discussion thread began with a user’s posting of a picture of a homeless man in California holding a sign (below) that says, “Give me $$$ or I will vote for Trump.” The user commented that “even the American beggar knows the danger of Trump on the Americans.”
A fellow user affirmed, “Trump will be a disaster to America; he is an element and tool of the Freemasons to complete their plots.” Many jihadists believe that Freemasons have established a new world order, and that U.S. politicians are an avenue to suppress the weak and empower the strong.
A third user agreed and added, “We want Trump to win the American presidency; we want to intensify the war, and as the war widens and becomes more heated, the world’s collapse gets closer and the Caliphate rises.” This comment emphasizes ISIS’s position that dragging the U.S. into a ground war in the Middle East would result in the country’s collapse. For jihadists, war in the Middle East is a means to hemorrhaging the U.S. economy, which is one of the group’s foremost objectives. The ISIS perception of Trump’s call for “destroying ISIS” by all means necessary is that his election would lead to ground confrontation – which ISIS propaganda could exploit as a Crusader war against weakened Muslims. This draws a close parallel to the 2003 Iraq war, where ISIS’s progenitor, Al-Qaida in Iraq, exploited the conflict to recruit locals and attract foreign fighters.
A fourth member proclaimed, “Trump’s governance will be the destroyer of America and its traitor Arab allies.” In other words, Trump’s decisions would weaken the U.S. and subsequently disable it from empowering allies in the Middle East.
Another member of the forum even prayed to God that Trump win the election, stating, “I ask Allah that the person who wins the election is he who dares to enter the plains of Dabiq,” the town in Syria’s Aleppo Province where, ISIS believes, an apocalyptic battle will take place that will render its fighters victorious. “I think it will be Trump,” he concluded. Another individual further underscored the latter point, indicating, “he who governs America must be like Trump in order to send it to the abyss.” A qualitative analysis of this chatter indicates that ISIS supporters believe that Trump would bring a ground war to ISIS, and to the Middle East, resulting in the downfall of America.
Trump’s controversial statements on banning Muslims from America were expected to generate a massive backlash from ISIS and its supporters, but initially, they did not. The recent Deep Web jihadist chatter specifically centered on Trump’s influence on America is one of the longer discussions to date by pro-ISIS individuals. Illustrating their support for his presidential candidacy, it appears that pro-ISIS supporters are suggesting that electing Trump would ultimately advance ISIS’s goals.
Though it is important to note that ISIS’s official media wings have not released any official statements or videos regarding Trump’s presidential bid, their propaganda may change during the general election and especially if Trump were to win the presidency.