This weekend reminded me of how Leon Wolf described a typical Trump presser back in August:
Watching Donald Trump speak and answer questions, though, is like watching a billion targets appear in the sky all at once, for a political opponent. Each thing he says is so bizarre, or ill informed, or demonstrably false, or un presidential in tone or character, that it becomes impossible to know which target to lock on to or focus on…
Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things – yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.
In the past 48 hours, he retweeted a Twitter follower who claimed, among other things, that 81 percent of white victims of homicide are killed by blacks when the FBI’s stats show the opposite, that 82 percent of white homicide victims are killed by whites. He told Fox & Friends yesterday, after a Black Lives Matter protester said he was roughed up after heckling Trump at his rally in Alabama on Saturday, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” We’d be having a field day today if Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio had said something like that, let alone an actual liberal like Hillary Clinton, but oh well. Then Trump told Stephanopoulos yesterday morning, in response to a question about something he’d said at the Alabama rally, that he really did see “thousands and thousands” of people in Jersey City celebrating on 9/11 as the Towers came down. “I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time,” he said. “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
For whatever reason, it’s the last of those three bits of “chaff” that are getting the most media attention today, possibly because it’s the most debatable of his statements. At Powerline, John Hinderaker found a WaPo story from the time that claimed law enforcement did detain and question “a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops” in Jersey City. Another report from a few years later claims that the WaPo reporter confirmed the celebrations by interviewing eyewitnesses. How trustworthy were those eyewitnesses, though? Breitbart’s Joel Pollak wonders:
If there had been celebrations like that in the U.S., they would have drawn instant attention and outrage. As John Hinderaker notes at Powerline, the Washington Post reported on Sep. 18, 2011 that “law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” That seems to provide at least some basis for Trump’s claim that celebrations happened.
However, an article on the same day in the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported: “Rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims here proved unfounded. So did reports circulating in Muslim communities that dozens of Arabs have been attacked in Jersey City.”
It was a time of fear and mutual suspicion, when all kinds of things seemed believable. But whatever celebrations happened in Jersey City on 9/11, it is safe to say they did not involve thousands of people–i.e. thousands of potential witnesses…
Trump tried to justify his claim by reminding Stephanopulous who lives in New Jersey: “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” It is an odd way for a serious presidential candidate to talk about fellow Americans. Someone ought to remind Donald Trump that if he does win in 2016, he will be the president of those “large Arab populations,” too.
Pollak thinks Trump is confusing reports of celebrations in the Palestinian territories, which did happen, with what was going on in Jersey City. He’s right too that bad information was circulating widely at the time: One of the sacred beliefs of some 9/11 Truthers, that Flight 93 landed safely, was based on an erroneous AP bulletin. I can tell you personally, having been in New York on 9/11, that I was told at one point that day that planes had hit Camp David as well. Maybe Trump got his info the same way, not from WaPo but from a friend who’d heard something from a friend etc. The key point is Pollak’s last point: Why is this guy floating the idea of thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheering when he obviously doesn’t know that for an absolute fact? The number isn’t a detail. A few degenerates celebrating on a rooftop and a fifth column of thousands of Al Qaeda fans cheering in the open is a big, big difference in terms of national security.
In an odd way, this reminds me of Trump goofing on McCain’s war heroism this past summer by saying he prefers heroes who don’t get captured. That’s another comment that would have burned red hot on the right if it had come from a disfavored figure like Obama, especially if it had been aimed a figure more favored than McCain. That’s the only calculus that really matters to Trump’s support when he says stuff like this. Is his target disfavored? Then you’re a RINO for criticizing him. Focus on the real enemy.
Update: Someone finally told Trump about Powerline’s post.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2015