White House spokesman Sean Spicer confounded many Americans when he referred to an Islamist terror attack in Atlanta as he defended President Donald Trump’s travel ban aimed at mostly Muslim countries.
While discussing the ban with the press, Spicer grouped a mysterious Atlanta incident in with the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013.
The first reference came during a Jan. 29 appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Spicer said the executive order was necessary to prevent another attack, asking what victims’ families should be told, “whether it’s Atlanta or San Bernardino or the Boston bomber?”
On Jan. 30, Spicer told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “too many of these cases that have happened, whether you’re talking about San Bernardino, Atlanta, they’ve happened, Boston” when asked if there was an imminent danger to the U.S.
During a White House briefing later that same day, the spokesman was explaining the need for “extreme vetting,” and said, “I don’t think you have to look any further than the families of the Boston Marathon, in Atlanta, in San Bernardino to ask if we can go further.”
The Daily Beast first connected Spicer's three Atlanta references on Wednesday. Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, told the outlet that “there has not been a successful jihadi terror attack in Atlanta.”
The only such attack in the Georgia city occurred in 1996, when three pipe bombs exploded during the Summer Olympics. Eric Robert Rudolph, a domestic terrorist born in Florida, was convicted in the bombing that killed one person and injured 111.
SO WHAT WAS SPICER TALKING ABOUT?
He “clearly meant Orlando,” Spicer told ABC News via email Wednesday.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, who swore allegiance to the Islamic State group, fatally shot 49 people and injured 53 others at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone shooter in U.S. history, as well as the deadliest instance of violence against the LGBT community.
Spicer’s gaffe is drawing comparisons to White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s reference to the “Bowling Green massacre.”
Conway, also defending Trump’s travel ban, told MSNBC’s “Hardball” Friday that President Barack Obama put a similar order in place on Iraqi refugees after two “Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”
The “massacre” didn’t get covered because it didn’t happen. The two Iraqi citizens were living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when they were sentenced for admitting to using improvised explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and tried send weapons and money to Al Qaeda, the Department of Justice said in 2013.
Conway later retracted, saying she meant to say “terrorists,” not “massacre.”