Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

PunditFact: Fact-checking the Sunday shows, Donald Trump's claim about thousands cheering in New Jersey after 9/11

A conservative pundit tried to put the debate over whether the United States should accept refugees from Syria into perspective on Fox News Sunday.

"America's an extraordinarily compassionate nation," said Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham. "We accept 50 percent. … In 2013, we accepted 67 percent of the world's refugees. Compassion doesn't require being stupid, however."

PunditFact examined Needham's claim that the United States accepted two-thirds of the world's refugees in 2013. That claim rates Mostly False.

A spokesperson for Heritage Action referred us to a State Department report. According to the report, 67 percent of refugees referred for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were resettled in the United States.

But resettled is a more specific and narrow description, experts told us.

Resettlement means that after fleeing their country of origin and residing in another country, a refugee was relocated to a third country. For 48,000 of those 71,000 refugees in 2013, the United States was that third country.

Looking at a more complete picture changes the outlook considerably. The world's refugees currently total 14.4 million under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, up from 11.7 million refugees in 2013.

Needham's phrasing makes it sound like we have 8 million refugees in the country. But that's not the case.

In reality, about 264,000 refugees, or 2.3 percent, resided in the United States in 2013.

The United States doesn't really have to deal with 99 percent of refugees directly because "we have the advantage of geography," said Lavinia Limón, the president of the advocacy group, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Most countries offering asylum for refugees neighbor war-torn states like Syria. As we noted in a previous fact-check, Turkey shelters the greatest number of refugees within its borders (1.6 million) with Pakistan and Lebanon not too far behind.

Trump's Sept. 11 claim

On ABC's This Week, 2016 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump phoned in to discuss the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

He also was asked to explain comments he made over the weekend about the terrorist attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down," Trump said at a Saturday campaign rally. "Thousands of people were cheering."

Trump defended the comments Sunday, saying "I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down."

Whether it's politically correct is irrelevant. The notion that people in the thousands in New Jersey cheered the Sept. 11 attacks is factually inaccurate. Trump's claim rates Pants on Fire.

We conducted an exhaustive search of newspaper and television transcripts on LexisNexis, looking for reports from September 2001 through December 2001 that made any mention of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the attacks.

Regarding Jersey City, which Trump mentioned specifically, we found two uncorroborated and unsourced mentions. Neither begins to approach the scale Trump described.

The Associated Press, on Sept. 17, 2001, described "rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims" in Jersey City. But the same report said those rumors were "unfounded."

The Washington Post, on Sept. 18, 2001, published an article that claimed "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."

The Post story includes no source for this information, and we found no evidence that any of these allegations ever stuck.

A more rampant rumor of Muslim or Arab-Americans cheering the attacks centered around nearby Paterson, N.J. But that turned out to be just a rumor, spawned by chain emails and perpetuated by shock jock Howard Stern's radio show.

The Star-Ledger described that as the rumors spread, "Paterson police rushed to South Main Street, the center of the city's Middle Eastern community."

There's no conclusive evidence that New Jersey residents celebrated the attacks, and there's no evidence whatsoever of any demonstrations where "thousands and thousands of people" cheered. Nor is there any evidence Trump saw these events play out in any way, be it on TV or in person. We reached out to Trump's campaign but didn't hear back.

Aaron Sharockman contributed this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.

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