Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden denounced certian 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric this week as playing into the hands of ISIS. The terrorist group just orchestrated a brutal attack against innocent civilians in Brussels, Belgium, killing scores. Hours after his interview, GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was included in an ISIS propaganda video. Hayden, referencing campaigns in general and not a specific ISIS message, told with NPR’s Steve Inskeep specifically cited a call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., championed by Trump, as well as a recent proposal by his main rival for the nomination, Ted Cruz, who called for the U.S. to increase police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods.
“Look, some of the rhetoric that we’re seeing in the campaign not only does not help, it’s actually destructive right now. Not destructive if and when somebody becomes president, Steve. The jihadi narrative is a world of undying enmity between Islam and what you and I call ‘the modern world,” Hayden said, in an interview aired Thursday morning (probably recorded before the video’s release).
Trump’s critics have accused him of perpetuating all sorts of violence, from the Boston attack on a immigrant man, to a slew of violent acts against protesters at his rallies. (Trump protesters, in turn, seem to be getting more violent themselves.) But could Trump’s fearmongering actually help ISIS? When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed that ISIS was using videos of Donald Trump as a recruitment tool, PolitiFact marked it false. But that was in December.
In January, a video clip of Trump promising to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. was used in an Al-Shabaab recruitment video. Al-Shabaab is affiliated with Al Qaeda, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks, not ISIS. On Thursday, ISIS released a video featuring some of Trump’s comments, but not his anti-Muslim policy proposals.
“Brussels was one of the great cities,” Trump says in a clip from a Fox News interview after the attack. “One of the most beautiful cities of the world 20 years ago; it was amazing actually. And safe. And now it’s a horror show; it’s an absolute horror show.”
Trump’s inclusion in the video was heavily anticipated by the intelligence community. Here’s Terrorism Asymmetrics Project chief Malcolm Nance in an interview with MSNBC, reacting to Trump’s call for increased use of torture.
"Good God, they're probably cutting videos of this right now," Nance said. "Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that they tell their operatives […] that America is a racist nation, xenophobic, anti-Muslim and that that's why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them.”
These claims aren’t playing out exactly as predicted. ISIS didn’t use Trump in their videos right away. When they did, ISIS used quotes of his assessment of the attacks, not his policy proposals. Perhaps the value isn’t individual remarks, but the Trump brand itself. ISIS’ target audience can fill in the blanks. In any case, Trump hasn’t slowed down his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
In fact, he tweeted out an even more apocalyptic message following his inclusion in the ISIS video, calling for the halt of Syrian refugee resettlement to avoid “the destruction of civilization as we know it.”
Europe and the U.S. must immediately stop taking in people from Syria. This will be the destruction of civilization as we know it! So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
Hayden, the former CIA director, wasn’t commenting specifically on that tweet, but his assessment speaks to Trump’s matching of the ISIS ideology that has been summed up by some as a war on civilization itself.
“For us to actually talk like we believe that narrative to be true that these people hate us, that we can’t let these people inside the United States, that these people deserve special police patrols -- that’s playing into the enemy’s narrative, and actually making the enemy stronger, able to recruit more, and thereby more threatening,” Hayden said in his interview with Inskeep.
Yet ISIS is also playing into Trump’s narrative, if only because of their continued success at carring out major attacks in Western European countries. Politicians, Trump argues, are incompetent and unable to prevent ISIS attacks because of “political correctness” -- a definition which he has expanded to include everything from reluctance against assaulting protesters at his events, to adherence to the Geneva Conventions.
The entire interview, Are Intelligence-Gathering Efforts Sufficient In The Fight To Destroy ISIS? Can be heard below.