In an apparent attempt to put pressure on Democrats to approve funding for his border wall, amid mounting pressure of the ongoing government shutdown, President Donald Trump pushed a claim that Muslim “prayer mats” had been found at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a tweet published on Friday morning from his personal account, Trump quoted an article from right-wing newspaper the Washington Examiner in an apparent bid to harness Islamophobia to secure the $5.9 billion he wants to deliver his campaign promise of a border wall.
Border rancher: “We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal.” Washington Examiner People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019
The Washington Examiner article, which is based entirely on the testimony of an anonymous Arizona rancher, includes no evidence to substantiate that this is the case.
The rancher, who also said Czechoslovakians were crossing the border, reportedly withheld her identity for “fear of retaliation” by Mexican cartels.
Interestingly, however, the story is grounded in a recurring conspiracy theory narrative peddled by the far right. In 2014, the same story was pushed by right-wing publication Breitbart. The alleged “prayer rug” turned out to be an Adidas shirt.
According to the Daily Beast, the conspiracy stretches as far back as 2005 when conservatives tried to claim that Islamic terrorists were trying to infiltrate the country. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) even took to the floor in Congress at the time to push the claims that prayer mats and Arabic texts had been recovered from the border, providing no evidence.
Subsequent investigations into the matter by other outlets, speaking to Border Patrol officers, failed to turn up evidence of prayer mats being found.
It seems that, when it suits his needs, the president is happy to accept without question the credibility of stories which include unsubstantiated claims by unnamed sources.