At his campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, President Trump referenced what he implied to have been some kind of terrorist incident in Sweden on Friday night. Making a larger argument about the alleged threat posed by admitting migrants from majority-Muslim countries, Trump ominously warned:
We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.
There was, of course, no terrorist or refugee-related incident in Sweden on Friday, as Swedes have been helpfully pointing out since Trump’s apparently unscripted remark. After mentioning the so-called incident, Trump went on to list a series of places in Europe where there have, in fact, been Islamist terrorist attacks over the last few years, but no such horrors have happened in Sweden.
The Associated Press reports that the Swedish Foreign Ministry is unaware of any “terror-linked major incidents,” and that the country’s Security Police won’t be raising the country’s terror-threat level. The Swedish Embassy in Washington also requested clarification on Trump’s remark from the State Department on Sunday.
On Sunday, President Trump eventually claimed that his remark was based on a news segment he had seen on Friday’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. That segment featured a Swedish documentarian’s allegations that migrants are responsible for a crime wave in the Scandinavian country, and that the Swedish government was trying to cover it up. Indeed, since there was no terrorist incident in Sweden on Friday, the Fox News segment was already the only reasonable explanation for Trump’s comment. As several reporters have been consistently tracking, the president’s tweets and public comments often directly correspond to things he has just watched on television, and the Sweden comment provides another prominent example of that phenomenon. It remains less clear, however, how Trump could carelessly conflate a Fox News segment with an actual incident or attack when ad-libbing on Saturday.
The reaction in Sweden to Trump’s remarks has ranged from annoyed to bemused. “What has he been smoking?” former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, wondered on Twitter. Then came the Ikea, ABBA, and other Swedish-export-laden tweets via the hashtags #LastNightInSweden and #SwedenIncident.
And The Muppets’ infamously mumbling Swedish Chef emerged as a prime suspect in the imaginary attack:
In the Swedish media, the newspaper Aftonbladet made use of the situation by publishing, in English, a list which began, “Mr President, here is what happened in Sweden Friday night,” including such dramatic events as:
6:42 PM: The famous singer Owe Thörnqvist had some technical problems during rehearsal for the singing competition ”Melodifestivalen”. (However, the 87 year old singer still managed to secure the victory the very next day.)
8:23 PM: A man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day in the city of Borås.
8:46 PM: Due to harsh weather in the northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjåkk and Riksgränsen. Due to strong winds and snow in the region the Met office also issued an avalanche warning.
12:17 AM: Police officers initiated a chase for a fleeing Peugeot through central parts of the Swedish capital of Stockholm. The pursuit ended in police officers ramming the suspect at Engelbrektsgatan. The driver is now accused of driving under the influence, traffic violation and car theft.
Aftonbladet also highlighted a new report about a bull moose attempting to mate with a wooden counterpart he had discovered in a Swede’s garden.
The Independent, meanwhile, points out that Sweden did in fact suffer an underreported attack, only it was last month, and migrants were the target, not the perpetrators:
Three suspected neo-Nazis were arrested in January after a Gothenburg Asylum centre became the target of a homemade bomb attack, leaving one person seriously injured. Security services said all three suspects had previously been members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), a group that openly promotes racist and anti-Semitic views and has vocally opposed non-white immigration to the country. The Swedish intelligence service Säpo said the incident on 5 January, which was also linked to two others in Gothenburg in recent months, appeared to be politically motivated.
Sweden, which admitted more refugees per capita in 2016 than any other country in Europe, has not suffered an Islamist-inspired terrorist attack since 2010, years before Europe’s migrant crisis began. All told, the country of 9.5 million has accepted more than 250,000 asylum seekers since 2014, including many from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There have certainly been problems resulting from the influx of refugees, but also some economic benefits. The alleged crime wave at the center of the Tucker Carlson segment, which has been frequently cited by right-wing news sites, seems greatly exaggerated at best, and a conspiracy theory at worst. Last May, the Globe and Mail’s Doug Sanders dug into the crime-wave claims, and discovered a much more complicated picture than any anti-immigrant Facebook posts would ever admit:
Statistics show that the foreign-born in Sweden, as in most European countries, do have a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born, in everything from shoplifting to murder (though not enough to affect the crime rate by more than a tiny margin). The opposite is true in North America, where immigrants have lower-than-average crime rates.
Why the difference? Because people who go to Sweden are poorer, and crime rates are mostly a product not of ethnicity but of class. In a 2013 analysis of 63,000 Swedish residents, Prof. Sarnecki and his colleagues found that 75 per cent of the difference in foreign-born crime is accounted for by income and neighbourhood, both indicators of poverty. Among the Swedish-born children of immigrants, the crime rate falls in half (and is almost entirely concentrated in lesser property crimes) and is 100-per-cent attributable to class — they are no more likely to commit crimes, including rape, than ethnic Swedes of the same family income.
What also stands out is that almost all the victims of these crimes — especially sex crimes — are also foreign-born. But for a handful of headline-grabbing atrocities, it isn’t a case of swarthy men preying on white women, but of Sweden’s system turning refugees into victims of crime.
That is the real Swedish crisis. Refugee shelters are terrible, dangerous places, whoever is in them.
The Guardian has more on the crime rate over the past three years:
According to the 2016 Swedish Crime Survey, crime rates in Sweden have stayed relatively stable over the last decade, with some fluctuations. In 2015, there were 112 cases of lethal violence in Sweden, an increase of 25 cases compared with 2014, but assaults, threats, sexual offences, car theft, burglary and harassment all reduced compared to the previous year — as did anxiety about crime in society.
Swedish political scientist Henrik Selin additionally explained to the New York Times, with regards to the crime-wave cover-up allegations, how “that kind of claim has been in the political debate for 15 years now. But nobody has been able to prove there is a cover-up.”
Selin also pointed out that other Islamophobic reports have falsely implied that Sharia law has been widely adopted across Sweden, or that the country’s police officers have refused to enter certain predominantly immigrant neighborhoods because they are too dangerous. “On the contrary,” Selim added, “the fact is that crime rates are going down.”
This post has been updated to reflect additional Swedish crime stats, comments from the Swedish government, Sweden’s request for clarification from the U.S. State Department, and Trump’s confirmation of the Fox News connection.