The following post first appeared on FactCheck.org.
Sen. Ted Cruz has criticized President Obama and the White House for not mentioning how religious discrimination fueled terrorist attacks in Paris and Libya this year. But to make his point, Cruz focuses on certain remarks and ignores others.
- Discussing the killing of four people at a Jewish supermarket in Paris, Cruz claimed Obama “described that attack as a, quote, ‘random act of violence.’ ” Obama never said those words. He denounced “vicious zealots who … randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli,” and the White House said Obama meant the victims were random, not the attack. Obama previously had described it as an act of anti-Semitism.
- Cruz also claimed that “when ISIS beheaded 22 Coptic Christians, the White House put out a statement saying they were killed because of their Egyptian citizenship.” The White House statement referred to those killed as “Egyptian citizens,” not Egyptian Christians. But it didn’t say they were killed because of their nationality.
Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate, made his statements at a May 30 town hall in New Hampshire hosted by radio host Jeff Kuhner. He had made the same claims at a Family Research Council retreat for pastors in Washington, D.C., on May 21.
Fellow Republican candidates Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee have made similar statements in the past.
Let’s review what Obama and the White House said about those terrorist acts.
Not a Random Act
On Jan. 9, Amedy Coulibaly shot and killed four people, and held more than a dozen others hostage, inside Hyper Cacher, a kosher grocery store in Paris. Prior to the attack, Coulibaly, according to a Reuters report, had called BFM-TV, a French TV station, “to claim allegiance to [the] Islamic State, saying he wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews.”
Cruz, during the town hall meeting, claimed that Obama, at the time, suggested that Coulibaly’s actions were “random” and unrelated to religion.
Cruz, May 30: A few months ago, when we saw the horrific terrorist attack in Paris, President Obama described that attack as a, quote, “random act of violence.” When radical Islamists with butcher knives go into a kosher deli to murder Jews because of their Jewish faith, there ain’t nothing random about that at all.
Cruz is not the only Republican presidential contender to have criticized Obama’s comments.
A Feb. 11, statement from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that he was “appalled that President Obama has chosen to deny the vicious anti-Semitic motivation of the attack on a kosher Jewish grocery in Paris on January 9th.”
And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, in a Feb. 11, Facebook post, wrote that “Obama said it’s entirely legitimate ‘to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.’ ” Huckabee went on to write, “But it wasn’t ‘random.’ It was a Jewish deli. One of the radical Islamic ‘zealots’ even told French TV that they were singling out Jews.”
Here is Obama’s complete statement from the Vox interview, published Feb. 9, with Executive Editor Matthew Yglesias:
Obama, Feb. 9: Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive. But we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we’ve got to make sure we’re right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn’t counterproductive.
The following day, in a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest attempted to clarify Obama’s statement.
“I believe the point that the president was trying to make is that these individuals were not specifically targeted. These were individuals who happened to randomly be in this deli and were shot while they were there,” Earnest told reporters. “So if you want to question the president’s placement of the adverb in the sentence, the adverb in this case being ‘randomly,’ you can. But that’s the point the president was trying to make.”
When Jonathan Karl of ABC News asked if Obama had “any doubt that that deli was attacked because it was a kosher deli,” Earnest said, “no.”
And Obama didn’t “deny the vicious anti-Semitic motivation of the attack,” as Perry had claimed. Even before the Vox interview and Earnest’s clarification, the president had said that the terrorist attack was motivated by anti-Semitism.
In a Jan. 22, statement for a United Nations meeting on the rise of anti-Semitism, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. They also threaten the values we hold dear — pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression.”
And on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, another statement from Obama said that “the recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms.”
Cruz also claimed that “when ISIS beheaded 22 Coptic Christians, the White House put out a statement saying they were killed because of their Egyptian citizenship.” He added, “That is not why they were killed.”
But that is not what the White House statement said.
On Feb. 15, an Islamic State faction in Libya released video of its mass execution of 21, not 22, Coptic Christians from Egypt. According to a BBC News report, “A caption made it clear the men were targeted because of their faith.”
It’s true that a statement from Earnest, the White House press secretary, referred to those killed as “Egyptian citizens” without mentioning that they were also Christians. But the statement also made no mention of a motive for the killings, as Cruz claimed it had.
Earnest, Feb. 15: The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.
This heinous act once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya, the continuation of which only benefits terrorist groups, including ISIL. We call on all Libyans to strongly reject this and all acts of terrorism and to unite in the face of this shared and growing threat. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon to facilitate formation of a national unity government and help foster a political solution in Libya.
The administration did mention that the victims were Christians after that.
This is what Secretary of State John Kerry said on Feb. 18 at a White House summit on violent extremism:
Kerry, Feb. 18: Earlier this week, with the release of a video showing the medieval murder of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on a beach in Libya, the world has once again been reminded of the absolutely unspeakable and undeniable evil of ISIL, which many of us prefer to call Daesh. Twenty-one innocent people were violently executed en masse in the most grotesque way simply because of their faith, and though Daesh has proven that it doesn’t need any rationale to kill people.
And on Feb. 19, President Obama, during a speech at the same summit, said that “ISIL-linked terrorists murdered Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, and their slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya has shocked the world.”