Donald Trump has said that “no one will be tougher” on terrorism than him, but new analysis from Foreign Affairs magazine shows that ISIS — the terror group Trump has pledged to eradicate — is actually hoping for the Republican nominee to win the US presidency.
Foreign Affairs analysed ISIS’ online channels and interviewed a dozen supporters and defectors to reach its conclusion. The magazine found that “jihadists are rooting for a Trump presidency because they believe that he will lead the United States on a path to self-destruction.”
Malcolm Nance, a terrorism expert and veteran military intelligence officer, offered a similar assessment after a terrorism debate at the Comedy Cellar in New York City last month.
“Donald Trump is ISIS’ preferred candidate and anything that he does is going to be done to the detriment of the United States,” Nance told Business Insider, adding, “Donald Trump is unstable.”
It’s unclear whether ISIS leadership openly advocates for a Trump presidency. Experts have expressed scepticism about this and noted that the group seems to talk about President Barack Obama more often than they talk about Trump.
And despite Hillary Clinton’s assertion that Trump is “ISIS’ best recruiter,” it seems that most of the pro-Trump propaganda seems to come from supporters of the group rather than top-tier members themselves.
Still, Foreign Affairs found that ISIS chatter on social media and messaging apps like Telegram seemed to favour getting Trump to the White House. And some verified members of the group told the magazine that they think Trump could lead the world into the apocalyptic final battle that is the ultimate endgame for ISIS.
What jihadis are saying about Trump
One defector, named Tarek, told Foreign Affairs that ISIS sees Trump as “the perfect enemy.” Tarek cited Trump’s rhetoric, which critics have described as anti-Muslim, as good material for ISIS propaganda that pushes an “us vs. them” narrative to further its strategy of dragging the West into a war with them.
And Trump’s rhetoric about radical Islam coupled with his proposal to ban immigration from “terror countries” until “extreme vetting” processes can be put into place could anger some Muslims already in America. This could then work to ISIS’ advantage.
“We were happy when Trump said bad things about Muslims because he makes it very clear that there are two teams in this battle: the Islamic team and the anti-Islamic team,” Samer, another recent defector from ISIS, told Foreign Affairs.
“When Trump says hateful things about Muslims, it proves that jihadists are right to fight against the West, because the West is against Islam.”
Ironically, as Trump insists that he’d keep ISIS out of America, one defector told Foreign Affairs that his stated policies could end up having the opposite effect.
“We don’t need to convince Muslims in the Middle East that the West is against them. They already know,” a former ISIS fighter named Maher said. “The next step for the Islamic State is to reach Muslims in America and Europe.”
What ISIS propaganda says about Trump
The world of ISIS propaganda is complex — there are official media outlets that publish videos created internally and approved by ISIS leaders, and there are outlets that have close ties to the group, but are run by supporters rather than official ISIS members.
Political observers took note in March when Trump appeared in a propaganda video which celebrated the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium. But experts were quick to point out that the video was produced by the Al-Battar Media Foundation, a pro-ISIS organisation that isn’t officially affiliated with the group.
Still, videos like these are viewed by supporters who might eventually feel compelled to act on these calls to terror from their home countries.
“Anything with Trump is going to attract attention and provoke controversy,” Alberto Fernandez, a former US ambassador who led the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, told Business Insider in March. “It’s going to get clicks, which is of course what they want,” he continued. “They are in the media business.”
ISIS supporters have also used social media platforms and messaging apps to highlight Trump.
Foreign Affairs looked at Arabic-language propaganda and found that ISIS spokesmen and supporters have used Telegram, an encrypted messaging app ISIS uses to spread propaganda, to encourage support for a Trump presidency.
“Trump’s reign in America will unsettle [Gulf] rulers and make them vulnerable,” one message read. “The religious clerics of these rulers will not be able to defend them, and large numbers of people will join jihad.”
Another message on the app read: “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” Yet another said: “The ‘facilitation’ of Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a priority for jihadists at any cost!!!”
Twitter is also a popular platform for ISIS supporters.
Foreign Affairs noted some of these pro-Trump tweets. One said, “This is the time of Trump. … They see it as Armageddon and we see it as Dabiq.” Another said, “Congratulations to us on the victory of Trump! Sit back and relax and watch the end of America at his hands. Dabiq is waiting.”
A December report from the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online, found similar tweets.
After Trump’s statement proposing the ban on Muslims entering the US, jihadists on Twitter reportedly expressed a “lack of surprise” and characterised the proposal as “Western oppression against Muslims,” according to SITE.
One tweet from an ISIS supporter said: “Why are people shocked with Trump he only said what most kufar [disbelievers] are afraid of saying.”
Another ISIS supporter tweeted, “The actions of Trump are just a trailer of what is awaiting Muslims in future in” Western countries. And yet another ISIS sympathizer said, “I wonder if President Trump will allow Muslims to leave the US for Dawlah [ISIS territory]. He hates Muslims so much, allow those that want to leave and live with other committed brothers and sisters without kuffar oppression.”
Nance said Trump lacks the temperament to be president.
ISIS “already been recruiting off of him,” he said. “He is the ISIS candidate.”