Moments before announcing that the United States would be exiting the Paris climate agreement on Thursday, President Donald Trump took a few moments to address a crisis unfolding in the Philippines.
“I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila,” Trump said. “It is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.”
There’s only one problem — what happened in Manila on Thursday night is not actually believed to be an act of extremism. According to authorities, it was a botched robbery.
A gunman opened fire on the Resorts World Manila casino early Friday morning before setting fire to casino tables and later to himself, dying in the process. According to Newsweek, eyewitnesses said they saw a “tall, foreign white man” before chaos descended, casting some suspicion on the gunman’s nationality and ethnicity. At least 36 bodies have been recovered, with many of the victims killed by suffocation from the flames.
U.S. intelligence officials reportedly said it was far too early to draw conclusions about the event and Ronald dela Rosa, National Police Chief for the Philippines, told reporters there was no evidence of militant involvement.
“There is a lone man who entered the second floor of Resorts World Manila. He was carrying an M4 rifle and he burned gambling tables. He did not shoot anyone,” dela Rosa said. “So far the motive [is unknown].” About rumors that ISIS or another extremist organization might be behind the incident, he said, “They can claim anything as part of their propaganda but we have to base our conclusion on evidence.”
Per his word choice on Thursday, Trump seems unwilling to have waited for any evidence. According to NBC, when asked about Trump’s claims, a U.S. intelligence official reportedly said the president was “freelancing” with his comments — sparking laughter in the Situation Room.
US intel official: Pres. Trump "was freelancing" with the terrorism declaration and "a laugh went up in the Situation Room" when he made it.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) June 1, 2017
Trump has a history of jumping to conclusions about tragic events, honing in on the same culprit: Muslims causing “terror.” Last December, while investigations were still underway into deadly incidents in Germany, Switzerland, and Turkey, Trump swiftly blamed extremists. He later singled out the incident in Germany in particular, releasing a statement only three hours after the tragedy (German Chancellor Angela Merkel waited 15 hours).
“Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” Trump said, even while key information about the event was still unknown. “ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continuously slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”
Casting blame on Muslims and “terror” is consistent with the Trump administration’s overall approach to both domestic and foreign policy. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump told CNN in March 2016. In January, Trump moved to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States — part of the administration’s larger pattern of Islamophobia.
Trump’s assumption about the robbery in Manila may stem from an ongoing crisis in the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, which is experiencing heightened militant activity.
Duterte’s rapport with Trump may have inspired the latter’s comments Thursday. Trump has repeatedly praised Duterte, an authoritarian leader who has overseen a bloody anti-drug purge resulting in more than 7,000 deaths, and even invited him to the Oval Office during a friendly phone conversation in May.
Meanwhile, another tragedy seems to have flown under Trump’s radar. Two horrifying bombings struck Baghdad, Iraq at the beginning of the week, killing 22 people and injuring almost 100 more. Among those killed by extremists were families and young children breaking their Ramadan fast at an ice cream parlor. Trump, however, has yet to weigh in on their deaths.