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Was Hillary Clinton predicting the future when she said that ISIS was using Donald Trump in recruitment videos for the Islamic State? Not quite, but her comment at a recent debate is back in the news. Readers asked us to check it out.
It started at the Democratic presidential debate on Dec. 19, when Clinton took a shot at the Republican primary frontrunner: "We also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don't fall on receptive ears," Clinton said. "He is becoming ISIS's best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists."
But Clinton had no hard evidence then to back up her comments. Extensive Google searches during the debate did not turn up any evidence, and the Clinton campaign couldn’t cite any specific videos. Instead, the campaign pointed to comments from Rita Katz of the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic terrorist groups on social media. Katz said that terrorist groups "follow everything Donald Trump says. When he says, 'No Muslims should be allowed in America,' they tell people, 'We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.' " That’s not hard evidence, though, so we rated the claim False.
Some readers said then that we were too harsh on Clinton. One wrote: "What do you think the odds are that ISIS hasn’t used news coverage of Trump saying outlandish things about Muslims to recruit? A million to one? Why on Earth wouldn’t they use it? And I don’t understand why ISIS supporters tweeting stories and videos about Trump don’t seem to count in your analysis. The basic point is true."
We heard from readers again on Jan. 1, when news outlets reported that the terrorist group Al Shabaab had released a video calling on American Muslims to join it in east Africa. The video featured Trump speaking shortly after the Dec. 2 terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., about his proposal for a temporary but "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S."
"Looks like it is no longer ‘untrue,’ " one reader wrote us, urging us to change our rating.
We aren’t changing our rating, because one of our principles is that we rate statements based on evidence available at the time the statement is made. Clinton had no way of knowing about the Al Shabaab video before she spoke. SITE Intelligence Group, which found the video, said it was distributed on Twitter on Dec. 31, well after Clinton had made her claim. (Clinton campaign staff declined to comment for this article.)
There’s an additional problem with the new evidence, and that’s the video was not made by the Islamic State.
"Al Shabaab is an al-Qaida affiliate -- it is not a part of ISIS," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
That said, Gartenstein-Ross added that Clinton’s problem was in getting ahead of the evidence, not in her underlying point.
"Trump is a good tool for them going forward," he said. "In extremist propaganda, Trump's comments can embody the Western hatred of Muslims and the elimination of -- in ISIS's words -- ‘the gray zone of coexistence.’ She was right that Trump could (and likely would) be used as a recruiting tool by ISIS and other militant groups, but wrong in her claim that he had already been featured in their videos."
PolitiFact, "No evidence for Hillary Clinton's claim that ISIS is using videos of Donald Trump as recruiting tool," Dec. 19, 2015
Wall Street Journal, "Al Qaeda-Linked Group Cites Donald Trump in Terrorist Recruiting Video," Jan. 1, 2016
BBC, "Al-Shabab militant group uses Donald Trump in propaganda film," Jan. 2, 2016
Associated Press, "Donald Trump Dismisses Recruitment Video," Jan. 3, 2016
CNN Wire, "Trump Demands Apology From Clinton Over ISIS Video Recruiting Claim," Dec. 22, 2015
Emails from PolitiFact readers
Email interview with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jan. 4, 2016