Trump is a Tool, but not an ISIS Recruiting Tool


I’m not a Trump supporter. I’d rather immolate myself than vote for him. The man is half lunatic, half moron, and half douchebag. He’s a rich, arrogant tool.

Donald Trump

(Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP)

But he’s not an ISIS recruiting tool.

Muslim terrorists don’t hate us because Trump says offensive things about them. They hate us because of who they are, not because of what we do. This isn’t as simple as “don’t make them mad and they won’t attack us.”

ISIS will attack us because they think they’re supposed to. If we’re polite and civil to them, they’ll be in a good mood when they attack. If we’re rude and offensive, they’ll be in a bad mood when they attack. Either way, they’ll attack.

In the face of a new terror threat that’s rapidly becoming existential, America has erected a vast, impenetrable barrier of self-loathing and victim blaming. Every attack by Muslim terrorists evokes shouted comparisons to “The Crusades! Slavery! Attacks on Planned Parenthood!” from the intended victims. ISIS doesn’t have to morally justify their brutal crimes, because Americans do it for them.

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Yes, the Crusades were bad. The Muslim invasions of Europe, which started almost 400 years before the first crusade, were also bad. Slavery was bad in every culture that practiced it, which was pretty much every culture on earth including African cultures. Americans fought a war to eradicate slavery, and ended it long before many other countries (the African country of Mauritania didn’t outlaw slavery until the 1980s). The Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado was bad, and was in fact terrorism. But even if it was equally bad as ISIS massacres in principle, it wasn’t equally bad in its effect. If every life is precious, 130 murders are worse than three.

For every atrocity our enemies commit, they (and their American apologists) can point to some historical atrocity that equaled it. We could do the same thing. And no matter how desperately we seek moral equivalence, in a hundred years our descendants won’t be justified in massacring innocent Muslims because ISIS is massacring innocent non-Muslims today.


Here, ISIS massacres Ethiopian Christians. No, that doesn’t mean Ethiopian Christians are now justified in massacring innocent Muslims. Just like the Crusades don’t mean ISIS is in any way justified in what they do.

But too many Americans keep thinking Muslim terrorists are motivated by our actions rather than their own beliefs. Our President has been saying for some time that “[Guantanamo Bay] is used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists.” Yet 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, happened before we started putting terror suspects in Gitmo. So did the USS Cole attack. So did Khobar towers. So did the African embassy bombings. So did the first World Trade Center bombing. So did the Beirut Marine barracks bombing. If holding terror suspects in Gitmo is such a huge recruiting tool for terrorism, what tool got so many terrorists to carry out so many terror attacks before Gitmo opened? And would closing Gitmo do anything more than restore us to the pre-Gitmo status quo, when terrorists wanted to kill us for non-Gitmo reasons?

Now the presumptive democratic presidential nominee has jumped on the “it’s our fault” bandwagon, claiming “[Trump] is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.” Besides the fact that Hillary Clinton has no actual evidence to support that claim, does she really think aspiring terrorists are saying “I was going to be a peaceful moderate, but then Trump said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed into America! Now I’ll blow myself up for Allah!”?

And actually, Trump isn’t in the latest ISIS video. But President Obama, VP Biden, G.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are. You heard that right; Obama and Biden, “liar” George Bush and “adulterer” Bill Clinton are being used as ISIS recruiting tools.

Whatever the recruiting tool, ISIS isn’t hurting for recruits and had a steady supply of volunteers long before Trump went full Trump. Estimates of ISIS manpower run as high as 200,000. And that estimate is from February, before Trump’s comments about Muslims. We’ve even recently heard that more British Muslims have joined ISIS than have joined the British military.

(This is bad news; however, the claim has been challenged partly because some of those British Muslims joined other jihadist groups but were included in ISIS numbers. This gives us the good news that British Muslims serve ISIS and the British military in near-equal numbers. So there’s that.)

And ISIS doesn’t rely on the actions of the Great Satan to lure recruits. In its magazine Dabiq ISIS does quote hawks like John McCain, but puts more emphasis on the word of god, the duty of all non-apostate Muslims to join ISIS’s jihad, the paradise awaiting martyrs, etc. It has interviews with martyrs before their deaths. It calls its fighters terrorists and shows them decapitating prisoners. It even shows, as a recruiting tool, pictures of dead ISIS fighters. It tells Muslims who can’t make the trip to Syria to kill non-Muslims wherever they are.


That is in fact a dead ISIS fighter on the left, being used as a recruiting photo.

They were doing this before Trump opened his stupid mouth. Muslims were heeding ISIS’s call by the tens of thousands before Trump. Muslims following ISIS orders or suggestions killed 130 people in Paris, fourteen in San Bernardino and tried to kill who knows how many in Garland, Texas. That was all pre-Trump.

Why does anyone think ISIS cares so much about what we say? If ISIS followers keep committing mass murders, of course we’re going to respond negatively. Of course we’re going to reevaluate our refugee policies. Of course we’re going to take a hard look at who’s a threat and who’s not. ISIS knows this. Who really believes ISIS commands its followers to kill us all, then whines “They said mean things about us!” after its followers try to kill us all?


Some of the 89 dead inside Paris’ Bataclan theater. No, ISIS didn’t kill these people because an American said something mean.

Let’s stop pretending ISIS only hates us because we’re bad people. ISIS hates us because ISIS is full of bad people. No, we’re not perfect, and we don’t have an unblemished foreign policy history. But if supporting dictators or using proxy armies to fight our enemies creates terrorism, then legions of Vietnamese suicide bombers should be attacking America. They’re not, because Vietnamese communists aren’t possessed by an ideology that encourages massacring civilians.

ISIS is possessed of such an ideology, and is proud of it. That 1400 year-old ideology is why they want to kill us. Trump is a clown, but even the democratic party can’t accuse him of creating ISIS ideology. Trump has done a million other stupid things he deserves blame for, but he’s not an ISIS recruiting tool. So stop looking for ways to blame America for Islamic terrorism, and start laying blame on the people who actually are terrorists.

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at or on his Facebook page (

7 Responses to “Trump is a Tool, but not an ISIS Recruiting Tool”

  1. Well said, good logic. Trump may be tool, but rightly or wrongly he is saying many of the things people are thinking. But more important, we do need to remember it’s not what we do, mistakes and all, but it’s their belief system as you pointed out. We need to fight them at their belief system as well as the point of a gun. Unfortunately, their numbers will grow as fundamentalist become radicalized. It is the moderates and liberal Muslim who will suffer.

    Stay safe
    Merry Christmas

  2. 2 Nick42

    You seem to be making the arguments that our enemies hate us for our freedom and because they are mad men. I can’t agree with those arguments.

    I would agree that they have a religious ideology that motivates them, but I don’t think it’s too different from other religious ideologies and there have been past eras where this kind of Muslim extremism has not been seen.

    I think Michael Scheuer, who is a former CIA officer who spent years as the head of the Bin Laden tracking unit, has the most persuasive argument on the subject.

    His wiki page summarizes his first book, Through Our Enemies Eyes with the quote that:

    [T]he crux of my argument is simply that America is in a war with militant Islamists that it cannot avoid; one that it cannot talk or appease its way out of; one in which our irreconcilable Islamist foes will have to be killed, an act which unavoidably will lead to innocent deaths; and one that is motivated in large measure by the impact of U.S. foreign policies in the Islamic world, one of which is unqualified U.S. support for Israel.[20]

    In his second book, Imperial Hubris he identifies the specific policies he believes has lead to the current era of Islamic terrorism:

    U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments.
    U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula.
    U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall.
    U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low.
    U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
    U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants.

    • I never said either of your first two assertions. ISIS also hates Shiite Iranians, who aren’t free. They hate Al Qaeda, who aren’t free. “They hate us for our freedom” is a ridiculous claim, and I’ve never said it. I also emphatically *never* claimed ISIS is “mad”. They’ve very sane and rational.

      There’s not much reason to address the rest of your comment, since you’re not at all responding to what I wrote.

      • 4 Nick42

        You didn’t use those exact phrases, but the overall impression I got was similar to those arguments. Maybe it’s because you’re wading into the hyper-partisan mire that passes for public debate today, which like wrestling with a pig, smears everyone in muck.

        Do you think a fairer summary would be to say that you’re arguing that Islamic terrorism stems more from their ideology than US foreign police? And that their ideology is uniquely barbaric and murderous?

        The specific statements you made that make me thing of this are:

        But too many Americans keep thinking Muslim terrorists are motivated by our actions rather than their own beliefs.

        Let’s stop pretending ISIS only hates us because we’re bad people. ISIS hates us because ISIS is full of bad people.

        You further said:

        No, we’re not perfect, and we don’t have an unblemished foreign policy history. But if supporting dictators or using proxy armies to fight our enemies creates terrorism, then legions of Vietnamese suicide bombers should be attacking America. They’re not, because Vietnamese communists aren’t possessed by an ideology that encourages massacring civilians.

        I think that’s a very interesting thing to say, because as I see it, Communism has no problem executing counter-revolutionaries, intellectuals, or whomever they deemed to be their political enemy of the day. Vietnamese communists slaughtered thousands after the Tet offensive and their neighbor and fellow traveler Pol Pot killed millions. None of this is moral justification for the acts ISIS has committed. I’m simply saying that this kind of evil is not unique in the world. Before Communism, there were the bomb throwing anarchists of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

        Islam terrorism seems to be more effective, deadly, and widespread than other similar movements. I think considering if this is historically true and what the cause of these differences are very useful questions. I wonder how much of this difference is due to globalism and the vast oil wealth of the Middle East making it easier to commit atrocities.

        As you said, supporting dictators or using proxy armies didn’t cause this kind of reactions in other regions or ideologies. I think Communism in South America is a better comparison than Asia. South America is more similar to the Middle East, as we supported viler dictators and were more motivated by economic exploitation than in Asia.

        This is where I think Scheuer’s commentary on the motivations behind Islamic terrorism become useful. Beyond that, I think there have been more subtle side effects of our foreign policy that helped increase Islamic radicalism. The House of Saud has been linked with the extreme Wahhabism form of Islam for centuries. US political and economic support of Saudi Arabia has allowed them to use their oil wealth to spread their ideology. The US / Soviet proxy war in Afghanistan saw us funding and supporting jihadist groups and allow them to build relationships they later used against us. Our military actions (or lack thereof) in Iraq and Syra helped contribute to the unrest that allowed ISIS to grow as it did.

        I saw these things not to blame America or to establish moral equivalency between us and terrorists but to try to gain a better understanding of how we got here, what motives our enemies, and how we can create a safer world. I think part of our ability to wield soft power is our moral legitimacy. In order to maintain that legitimacy I think it’s important to recognize the times we’ve fallen short of our ideals. I realize you’re speaking in a political context, where everything is dumbed down to 30 second soundbites, but it’s disheartening to hear you dismiss such complex issues as blaming America.

        I respect your views and enjoy your writing (including both of your books), but this post seems to be addressing arguments that should be caricatures or strawmen and in doing so seems to make your own arguments less weighty. In contrast, I really enjoyed your interview with Jim Webb. I’ve been a fan of Webb for some time, but I didn’t know he was journalist in Beirut shortly before the bombing.

  3. 5 Brocky

    When Nick 42 said “hate us for our freedom” I took it as figuratively speaking which for me is just Bush saying something stupid because many Americans would agree with that kind of a mindless statement, it’s much simpler to say that rather than the real reason. The real reason is of course America’s actions. It is also just as ridiculous to claim that Muslims become terrorists just because of a 1400 year old ideology. Gitmo may now be a tool for recruiting jihadists but before Gitmo they had their reasons for attacks they committed on the US.

    Surely you must know the reasons for 911? It had nothing at all to do with a 1400 year old ideology but with US actions. Beirut Marine barracks bombing was the result of two actions. The first, part of a multi national peace keeping force the US appeared to take a side in the conflict when it shelled the other side for a day resulting in many innocent deaths. A couple Americans at the time said that it was a big mistake that will be paid for in blood, and it was. The second reason was US support for Iraq in the Iraq – Iran war.

    I don’t quite get your idea of why Vietnamese suicide bombers should be attacking America. The Vietnamese won the war so they have no reason to be attacking now, if the war was still happening and Americans were over there to be targets then things would be different. Also, North Vietnam was a country with a government which gives them a main method on how to fight a war unlike a militant group like Al Qaeda or ISIS. However Vietnam did use suicide bombers during the war but not to the extent Japan did.

    “because Vietnamese communists aren’t possessed by an ideology that encourages massacring civilians.”

    ^ Interesting statement. Is it an ideology that encourages massacring civilians or something else? Like the method of fighting a war? I think the main reason is the why. Was it an ideology or the “why” that encouraged massacring Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam war or the war with the Japanese or Germany?

  4. You wrote: “This isn’t as simple as “don’t make them mad and they won’t attack us.”

    I don’t think anyone is making it that simple—even when they say that Trump is a recruitment tool. The issue is not that one man is trash-talking Islam. It’s an issue of who that man is, what he is saying, the response he’s getting from his audiences, the office he’s seeking, and the ramifications of all those elements. Trump is a very public, powerful celebrity who is preaching (among other things) that Muslim refugees may be jihadi families and that we can crush ISIS by killing jihadi families (you do the math). This is a man seeking the presidency of the United States—inarguably one of the most powerful positions in the world, and a position in which he would represent an entire nation to the international community.

    Trump’s words are causing crowds of thousands to cheer at the thought of doing harm to Muslims—not just violent extremists, but all Muslims. His words are emboldening people in our society who have kept their bigotry against the “other” squirreled away but who now feel it is okay to openly speak hatefully about Muslims (and others). I’ve heard one Trump supporter after another comment on the fact that he makes them feel good about their sentiments toward immigrants, Muslims, LGBT people and anyone else they feel uncomfortable with. He has made his followers comfortable in their bigotry.

    All of that contributes to a truly terrifying image of America if you happen to be a member of one of those groups. It’s not just one loud, wealthy celebrity who’s expressing this hatred for all things Muslim, it’s an entire seemingly growing segment of America. A segment that speaks as if it IS America.

    Consider how many people living in this country believe that no Muslims or Muslim organizations have condemned the violence and intent of the so-called jihadis, despite the fact that they have condemned it loudly and long for years and have done so using a variety of platforms: conferences, open letters, newspaper ads, informational meetings, educational programs within their own communities and in the wider community.

    Can you see how—in a culture in which information flows far less freely than it does here—ISIS and like groups can build a case for the idea that Americans as a people are crying for Muslim blood. The uptick in attacks on mosques and individual Muslims since Paris only serves to confirm what ISIS (and Mr. Trump, among others) wants people to believe—that the US is at war with Muslims.

    And THAT is what people mean when they say that Trump is a recruitment tool. It’s a statement that acknowledges the long, sometimes contentious relationship between “East and West” (as if it were ever that simple) and that recognizes the danger of frightened Muslims coming to the conclusion that the jihadis were right all along—they are besieged by an enemy that understands only the language of violence.

  5. 7 E. Thorn

    It’s not as simple as why ISIS attacks; if ISIS were made up of 3 people it wouldn’t matter what they want. But they keep gaining recruits. Why? Why does someone who was not executing defenseless people one day decide to join ISIS? I think just casting it in “they’re bad” terms or even in religious terms alone is not all the helpful.

    US foreign policy matters. Trump is a sideshow, but the way the US has been involved in the region is not immaterial to the results, now. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be there, exercising hard and soft power towards goals, but if we do we shouldn’t then pretend that it has nothing to do with being attacked by people who may not appreciate our meddling.

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