The southwest border fence in Arizona, circa 2011. (Donna Burton/CBP)

Trump Tweet of Muslim Prayer Rugs at Border Sparks Controversy

President Trump fanned the flames of a rumor on Friday by tweeting about an unsubstantiated Washington Examiner story of a New Mexico rancher claiming to have found Muslim prayer rugs on her property along the Mexican border.

The tweet struck a divisive note among many as the White House and Congress continue to deliberate over a government shutdown that has dragged on since Dec. 22 and has hit the paychecks of more than 800,000 federal employees.

“There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico,” the rancher, who was not identified, told the news outlet. “People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across.”

The credibility of the Examiner story has been questioned by numerous media outlets and advocacy groups, as the farmer did not describe the rugs or provide any as proof.

The first known report of Muslim prayer rugs allegedly appearing at the U.S. border have been traced back to 2005, according to The Washington Post. Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), in a 2005 Senate speech, reported that prayer rugs and notebooks with Islamic writing had been found at the border, but offered no proof, according to The Daily Beast. The issue was again brought to light in 2014, when Breitbart reported that various Middle Eastern currencies and prayer rugs were regularly found near the southern border.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said that the president’s tweet was “Islamophobic.”

“It is pathetic that Mr. Trump always returns to his longstanding anti-immigrant and Islamophobic themes when seeking to distract the nation from his growing legal and political problems,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. “This is the same tactic we’ve seen him use time and time again to divert attention away from real issues to manufactured conspiracies. Millions of American Muslims use prayer rugs, and neither the rugs nor their owners should be falsely linked to terrorism for political purposes.”

On Jan. 5, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen attempted to make a border presentation to congressional leaders at the White House, and reportedly said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 3,000 terrorists at the southern border, a figure that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) discounted, prompting the Democrats to prematurely walk out of a negotiation meeting to end the ongoing partial government shutdown.

SEE: Here’s How the Government Shutdown Affects U.S. Customs and Border Protection
MORE: Here’s How the Government Shutdown Affects the Department of Homeland Security

Afterward, standing alongside the president and Vice President Pence, Nielsen said that the 3,000 “special interest aliens” are individuals who have been identified as of concern to the intelligence community.

“(T)hey either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns, or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism,” Nielsen said. “So, we have 3,000 that we know about. I think what the president continues to make clear is it’s our sovereign duty to know who comes into our country. Without any kind of a structure and without changing the laws, we have no way to know the identity of every person that walks across the unsecured border.”

Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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