NEW YORK — When Donald Trump suddenly and out of nowhere targeted Sweden things got uncanny.
“You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Donald Trump asked on Saturday, naming the peaceful country individually while listing some places in Europe hit by terror attacks.
Right, who would believe this? As it soon turned out, at least not the Swedes.
Trump later refined his comments, but not before producing significant uncertainty after a moderately quiet night in Sweden, where some of the greatest stories included a man setting himself on fire for unknown reasons, talk about Eurovision try-outs, and a picture of a moose humping a wooden moose.
Trump later affirmed the statement had been “about a story that aired on Fox News concerning immigrants and Sweden.” Said story was an account with renowned filmmaker Ami Horowitz, who declared on air that “there was an absolute flood of both gun violence and rape in Sweden as it began its open door policy,” pointing to the past few years and Sweden’s record influx of refugees.
Several Swedish officials, ordinary Swedes and even the police officers interviewed in the video – who insisted their quotes had been taken out of context – have opposed these claims. But it is just the latest in a long line of fantastic or false stories peddled by alt-right media outlets.
And for Swedes, who are used to being depicted as a happy, meatball-eating people dancing to Abba while enjoying their extended parental leave – another distorted international image not strictly true either – the sudden rise in contradictory reports has come as somewhat of a shock.
“There exist two “pictures” of Sweden. The welfare nation and the little red cottages, and yet another illustration that has circulated ever since problems for Jews were established. US television has several times linked back to that,” a senior member of the Swedish parliament informs us.
Meanwhile, there is an endless domestic debate, where many hold that Sweden has long been too compliant to allow new arrivals. It received 163,000 asylum requests in 2015, but after stiffening its borders and rules, the number sank to fewer than 30,000 in 2016. The debate is widely thought to have boosted anti-immigration party the Sweden Democrats, currently polling at around 18 percent.
“You should also recognize that there are Swedish groups who sell this image. Some Swedes compose for Breitbart,” says a journalist about the alt-right platform.
But let’s take one step back from politics and glance at the evidence.
It is troublesome to see when in the past few years this “absolute surge” occurred. In fact, deadly violence in Sweden is yet around 1 per 100,000 people, contrasted to the American 5 per 100,000, says data from the FBI.
But as history exhibits, once a lie sticks, it is hard to get it unstuck. In the 1960s, Dwight D Eisenhower professed in a communication that Sweden’s welfare policies had resulted in a high rate of suicide, thus starting a usually quoted myth that Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world, which is completely unfounded.
“60 years later, that’s still around, which shows how these things survive,” says a senior official.
Sweden has previously taken steps to debunk some of the rumors, with its embassy in the US tweeting that it “looks forward to notifying the US Administration about our Swedish immigration and integration policies.”
“Sweden is a small country, and we rely on international trade. We are reliant on having an excellent reliability that investors dare to invest in Sweden because they know that there is some continuity, so these stories spreading is negative for Sweden for financial reasons,” says a source.
In the US television interview, it is also put forth that “not that long ago, Sweden had its first terrorist attack .” It does not stipulate what that refers to, but a suicide bomber did try to lance an attack in Stockholm in 2010 – many years before the refugee influx of 2015. The attacker managed to kill only one person, namely himself.
The alt-right sword attack on a school in the South of Sween in the fall of 2015 was considerably more deadly but does not get a remark in the Fox News clip. There have not been any additional terror attacks connected to Islamism in Sweden in recent years. A disturbance at a Mosque last year – which was claimed by Isis but not deemed a terror attack according to a Swedish court – created only minor smoke damage to the construction.
Certainly, Sweden has worked with its great wave of migration. Unemployment rates among foreign-born people are still significantly higher than children people born in the country, there are reports of rising discrimination, and many express feeling less secure than they used to.
But these are critical matters, which Sweden takes earnestly. Does Donald Trump?