LONDON — Swedes reacted with confusion, anger and ridicule on Sunday to a vague remark by President Trump that suggested that something terrible had occurred in their country. During a campaign-style rally on Saturday in Florida, Mr. Trump issued a sharp if discursive attack on refugee policies in Europe, ticking off a list of places that have been hit by terrorists.
“You look at what’s happening,” he told his supporters. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”
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Nothing particularly nefarious happened in Sweden on Friday — or Saturday, for that matter — and Swedes were left baffled.
“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter. Mr. Trump did not state, per se, that a terrorist attack had taken place in Sweden.
But the context of his remarks — he mentioned Sweden right after he chastised Germany, which also took in large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and deprivation — clearly suggested that he thought something awful had happened.
“Sweden,” he said. “They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris. We’ve allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing. So we’re going to keep our country safe.”
Contrary to Mr. Trump’s allegations, nearly all of the men involved in terrorist assaults in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, in Brussels on March 22 last year, and in Nice, France, on July 14, were citizens of France or Belgium.
As the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet noted, Twitter users were quick to ridicule Mr. Trump’s remark, with joking references to the Swedish Chef, the “Muppets” character; Swedish meatballs; and Ikea, the furniture giant.
Others speculated that Mr. Trump might have been influenced by a Fox News interview of Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who asserts that migrants in Sweden have been associated with an increase in crime, by the correspondent Tucker Carlson. “They often times try to cover up some of these crimes,” Mr. Horowitz said, arguing that those who try to tell the truth about the situation are shouted down as racists and xenophobes.
(Mr. Carlson interjected: “The masochism of the West knows no bounds at all.”) Mr. Horowitz said, “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already.” It was not clear what he was referring to. In 2010, a suicide bomber struck central Stockholm, injuring two people. The bomber, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, 28, was an Iraqi-born Swede who had developed an affinity for Al Qaeda. But that attack occurred long before the current wave of migrants fleeing war and deprivation.
Sweden has a long history of welcoming refugees — Jews, Iranians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kurds and people from the former Yugoslavia, among others — but even some of the most tolerant and idealistic Swedes have raised questions about whether the country can absorb so many newcomers so quickly. Swedes are also worried about the perception of their country.
“Sweden is a country that wants to have an influence in the world, and we do not want to be a country that is used for other political purposes,” Henrik Selin, a political scientist who led a study for the Swedish Institute, which promotes the country abroad, told Radio Sweden. “There are countries who’d like Sweden to be an element in their story about a failed state. It is not in our interest to support those kinds of stories that are not true.” In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse.”
He added: “Among Trump supporters it is common to myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East. These are incorrect, made up and gravely misleading news items like this have spread to right-wing sites like Breitbart, Human Events, Drudge Report and Fox News, as well as the popular conservative radio programs that reach millions of listeners every day.”