Video footage showed the aftermath of the riots in Rinkeby, Sweden. (Screen shot via Wall Street Journal)
It’s been three days since President Trump baffled reporters by referring to an unnamed terrorist incident in Sweden, and the media (and the Swedish government) was quick to debunk the idea that any sort of attack had occurred.
But Trump’s remarks, just on the verge of disappearing from public discourse, are gaining attention again. Early Tuesday, news spread of riots that had broken out overnight in a Swedish suburb inhabited by a large immigrant population. The New York Times explains:
About 20 to 30 masked men threw stones and other objects at police officers in the suburb, Rinkeby, after the police arrested a man on suspicion of dealing drugs. A police officer fired a warning shot, but the disturbances continued for several more hours, stretching into early Tuesday morning. A photojournalist was injured in the clashes.
The episode drew scrutiny worldwide because of Mr. Trump’s assertions — based on a Fox News segment — that Sweden had experienced a surge in crime and violence as a result of taking in large numbers of refugees. Mr. Trump’s comments were greeted with anger in Sweden, the latest example of strong criticism by the American president antagonizing friendly countries, including neighbors like Mexico and allies like Australia and the European Union.
This isn’t the first time Rinkeby has experienced riots – the suburb endured similar outbursts in 2010 and 2013. It’s not yet clear why yesterday’s arrest spurred riots.
While the Rinkeby riots are drawing media attention, one aspect of this sudden focus on Sweden’s immigration policy is lost in the shuffle: that President Trump’s initial remarks about the country, given at a rally last Saturday, were found to be false.
And despite the fact that no terrorist incident had occurred in Sweden last Friday night, as Trump purported, mainstream media outlets continued to give the remarks unnecessary attention.
Monday, Fox News published an article examining the “migrant crime wave” that’s recently hit Sweden. The source of the article is a single Facebook post made by Swedish Police investigator Peter Springare, who was later investigated for inciting a hate crime because of the post.
The article states, written by Cody Derespina, states:
Trump’s comments during a Florida campaign rally on Saturday – which some took as a misstatement about a supposed terror attack – dovetail with what Springare has been seeing during a typical week in Orebro, Sweden. Five rapes, three assaults, a pair of extortions, blackmail, an attempted murder, violence against police and a robbery made up Springare’s caseload for a five-day period earlier this month, according to a Feb. 3 Facebook post he wrote. The suspects were all from Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Turkey – save for one Swedish man nabbed in a drug-related case.
Derespina also attempts to forge a correlation between a recent bout of violence in the Swedish city of Malmo and Malmo’s population. “About 32 percent of Malmo’s occupants are migrants,” the article states, “although it is not clear what role migrants play in the crime wave.”
Derespina’s rhetoric has only become further amplified in the wake of Rinkelby’s overnight violence. These riots, however, are stand-alone incident in the face of statistics (but just like in the U.S., a single violent outbreak is often overblown to represent the country as a whole.)
There is, in fact, “no evidence to suggest that new waves of immigration has lead to increased crime,” according to Henrik Selin, a political scientist and the deputy director of the Swedish Institute.
And the Chicago Tribune provided even more evidence:
In 2015, when the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia was highest, Sweden took in the greatest number per capita. By and large, integration has been a success story there, save for incidents like Monday night’s, which have taken place in highly segregated neighborhoods.
The newspaper Dagens Nyheter analyzed crime statistics between October 2015 and January 2016 and came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only 1 percent of all incidents. That has done little to assuage the perceptions, even among Swedes, that foreigners are culpable for the crime that does happen. A Pew Research Center study conducted in early 2016 indicated that 46 percent of Swedes believed that “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.”
Unfortunately, Fox News isn’t the only mainstream media outlet continuing to analyze Trump’s false statement. Despite its liberal leanings, CNN has been devoting daily airtime to the topic – CNN’s Don Lemon conducted an interview with the source of the Sweden remarks, CNN articles have examined Trump’s explanation and CNN Money has even reported on the subject.
Both outlets’ coverage of this falsehood shows how difficult it is to differentiate between “fake news” and actual reporting during the Trump administration, as Trump seems to hold the ability to distract the public for days with just a single remark. Fox News and CNN, networks bound to the 24-hour news cycle, have been preoccupied with analyzing the “Sweden incident” to the point that a single lie continues to dominate mainstream media days after it was proven false.
Last night’s riots in Sweden, and the flurry of analysis from both sides of the political spectrum that followed, are indicative of the current debate over American immigration policy. Considering that Trump just released a new set controversial immigration policies, fierce analysis of other countries’ “migrant crises” – or lack thereof – are unlikely to die down anytime soon.