Trump, Clinton, and Jihadi Videos
Jihadists’ use of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements regarding Muslims has been a hot topic in recent media discussions. On December 19, 2015, Hillary Clinton asserted that the Islamic State (IS) was “going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s Director of Communications, subsequently acknowledged that the campaign was unaware of such a video, stating, “She didn’t have a particular video in mind, but he is being used in social media.” Trump gloated in the gaffe.
Shortly thereafter, on January 1, 2016, an hour long video, titled, “The Path 2 Paradise: From the Twin Cities to the Land of Two Migrations, Episode 2” was released by the Shabaab al-Mujahideen, al-Qaeda’s (AQ) branch in Somalia. The video included footage of Trump proposing a temporary travel ban for Muslims in the U.S. juxtaposed with words of deceased American AQ recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki:
Muslims of the West, take heed and learn from the lessons of history. There are ominous clouds gathering in your horizon. Yesterday, America was a land of slavery, segregation, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan, and tomorrow, it will be a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps.
The video refueled the media fire. In response, Trump tweeted, “Hillary & the MSM forgot to mention that Hillary is in the Al-Shabaab terror video,” along with a link to an article suggesting the same. After watching the entire video, we at SITE can say that Clinton was not featured in it. But the use of U.S. politicians in jihadi videos is not new, and Trump was not the first to be featured in one.
The 2008 presidential campaign was widely featured in AQ releases. Vice President Joe Biden, for example, was featured in a video by As-Sahab, AQ Central’s media arm. The video featured striking similarities to the aforementioned Shabaab video featuring Trump, both in prominence (at this time, AQ was the foremost jihadi organization, encompassing what would become IS as its Iraqi affiliate) and stylistic traits. Released in April 2009, the video showed Biden during a vice presidential debate with Sarah Palin, wherein he suggested that America help Pakistan “build schools to compete with” madrassas being built across the Pakistani border. Biden’s statement was preceded by narration from deceased American AQ figure Adam Gadahn:
Obama’s deputy Joseph Biden is even more frank than the president, stating that one of their administration’s priorities is to eliminate Islamic schools in Pakistan, a threat which brings to the surface American politicians’ entrenched hatred of Islam and Muslims.
Both videos were made in documentary style, showed the political figures in campaign-related settings, and characterized the individuals as proving the West’s hatred for Islam.
An even more relevant example is a February 5, 2013 video by the jihadi al-Qabidun 'Ala al-Jamr Media Foundation, dedicated to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The video—which does not show Clinton due to jihadists’ hardline religious stance against visually featuring women—was titled "How Cowardly You Are, and How Terrified We Are." The Arabic language production provided a compilation of existing jihadi releases in response to the State Department’s counter-extremism efforts, and stated of Clinton:
The butcher of Muslim blood Hillary Clinton said:
"When extremist Islamists publish, for example, a video showing how terrified Americans are, then we will show a video of how terrified they the extremists are, and this is in order to stand to the mystery of the extremist Islamic groups through the media channels through which they communicate with people."
Clinton was also shown in a March 2012 as-Sahab release by AQ, though with a blurred face so as to meet the aforementioned ideological restrictions of jihadists regarding women (also see previously shown image of Biden and Palin):
How to practically and rhetorically deal with radicalization and terrorism is an important discussion to have. And, to that point, it is crucial that we know how our enemy is trying to manipulate potential recruits. However, the obsession of politicians and pundits with who showed up in which video is a petty game that contributes nothing to such conversations, and grants political sway to jihadi propagandists.
Furthermore, those using appearances in jihadi propaganda to score political points should remember that jihadists have long used statements from an array of U.S. politicians to promote their agendas. That stated, perhaps U.S. politicians should refrain from using jihadi communications to promote theirs.