As the government shutdown continues, with funding for the president’s proposed border wall the main point of contention, many news outlets have been going to the border to interview those close to where the wall would be built.
One such report Wednesday, by the Washington Examiner, alleged something shocking: that ranchers and farmers along the border have been finding Islamic prayer rugs in the area. This indicates that Muslims — and, by implication, Muslim terrorists — have been crossing the border illegally. This echoes rhetoric from the president, per the New York Times, that terrorists are entering the country by crossing the border, and therefore a wall is needed to stop them.
The story features a female rancher from New Mexico, interviewed in a 97-second video, talking about how many of the people crossing the border in recent months have been from countries other than Mexico.
“People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that,” the rancher says. “That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across.” The woman is interviewed with the camera pointed at her knees, and the story claims that the rancher requested anonymity, “for fear of retaliation by cartels.”
She also claims that nationalities of illegal border crossers apprehended have included “Chinese, Germans, Russians, a lot of Middle Easterners [and] those Czechoslovakians they caught over on our neighbor’s just last summer.” Czechoslovakia split into separate countries in 1990.
There’s one other big hole in the Examiner‘s story, however: there’s no evidence of these “prayer rugs.” There are no pictures or video of them, nor any corroboration of any kind that such rugs have ever been found. The reporter, it appears, was not shown the rugs themselves or pictures of them. This was pointed out by Twitter persona UrbanAchievr:
editor: "so this rancher is also an expert on muslim prayer rugs?"— Brandt (@UrbanAchievr) January 16, 2019
"but we can't run his name because the cartels will kill him?"
"does he have pictures or anything?"
"make it the lede" pic.twitter.com/6BLFXncQHb
It is true that many of those crossing the border are from Central American countries south of Mexico, as this has been widely reported during the last several years of debate over immigration policy. The caravan that made so much news in the later part of 2018, of course, originated in Honduras.
But the “prayer rugs” claim, it appears, is wholly unsubstantiated by anything other than one person’s word. It’s also not clear why something as important to a practicing Muslim as a prayer rug would be carelessly left on the ground in any large number. Such rugs, per The National, are often imported and expensive.
The Examiner piece notes that a total of six “known or suspected terrorists” were caught at the border in the six months between October 2017 and March 2018, a significantly smaller number than the 3,700 bandied about by the Trump administration as “people who were identified as coming from countries with terrorism problems.”
David Dewhurst, the former lieutenant governor of Texas, claimed on multiple occasions in 2014 that prayer rugs had been found near the border in Texas, but the claim was rated “Pants on Fire” by Politifact.