President Trump tweeted Friday about the claim that “prayer rugs” had been found near the border with Mexico, using the claim as a further argument of the need for a wall.
The “prayer rugs” claim is something of an urban legend, often alleged but never proven over the course of many years. Trump sourced it to a report earlier this week in the Washington Examiner, which quoted a female rancher in New Mexico as stating that the rugs, associated with Islam, had been found in the area. But the Examiner story did not include any photographs, video, or other corraborating information about the existence of the rugs.
After Trump’s tweet, some observers noted something else, though. The existence of Islamic prayer rugs near the border as an indicator that terrorists were going to cross the border with Mexico and commit attacks in the United States was a plot point in the 2018 movie Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
The film, released last June, was a sequel to the 2015 hit Sicario, and the terrorist attacks at the beginning kick off the main plot, which has U.S. government agents seeking to instigate a war between drug cartels in order to get them out of the business of smuggling terrorists. A later plot twist, however, establishes that the terrorists were in fact domestic, and weren’t smuggled across the border after all.
— Andy Vermaut (@AndyVermaut) January 19, 2019
Did Trump get the idea from the Sicario film? Probably not; his original tweet clearly established that it came from the Examiner story. There’s no indication that the president has seen that particular film, and it was much less seen than the first Sicario, earning only about $50 million at the domestic box office.
What’s more likely is that the idea has been out there in the ether for many years, including the time Texas political candidate David Dewhurst made the claim back in 2014, when it was rated “pants on fire” by Politifact. There’s a good chance that the prayer rugs myth came up at some point in screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s research for the film.
In the wake of Trump’s tweet of the prayer rugs story, film critics have been debating the film and its relationship to what Trump said. Critic April Wolfe noted that “the president’s new big racist talking point was ripped right from the fictional Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” while others argued that the point of the movie was that the U.S. government and CIA were wrong in their actions.
Critic Scott Wampler, meanwhile, noted that “there are more people talking about Sicario: Day of the Soldado today than anyone ever did when the movie was actually in theaters. This is a truly dubious achievement for the makers of Sicario: Day of the Soldado.”