CONCORD, N.H. — Ben Carson on Friday officially filed for New Hampshire’s presidential primary, then waded through a bog of questions about whether special surveillance or “databases” were required to keep track of possible Muslims extremists.
“I think we should have a database on everybody who comes into this country,” Carson told reporters in the state house. Told that rival Donald Trump had proposed tracking Muslims already in the United States, Carson added that “hopefully, we already have a database on every citizen who is already here. If we don’t, we are doing a very poor job.”
The grilling was inspired by a set of remarks Trump made on Thursday, first to Yahoo News’s Hunter Walker, then to NBC News’s Vaughn Hillyard, which were reported as the Republican frontrunner’s endorsement of “a database system tracking Muslims in the United States.” Trump’s haphazard responses to the idea, and Carson’s insistence that the right kind of databases already existed, were the latest examples of how the rise of two outsiders untrained in politico-speak were roiling the Republican debate.
Carson, who spent part of September grappling with the question of whether faithful Muslims could hold political office, was less thrown by the “database” question. But it took several tries for reporters to explain just what the controversy had been and that Trump seemed to be proposing special “registration” by Muslims currently living in America.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat anybody differently,” Carson said. “You know, one of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same. So if we’re just going to pick out a particular group of people based on their religion, based on their race, based on some other type of thing, that’s setting a dangerous precedent.”
Asked if he would favor more scrutiny of mosques or Muslim organizations, Carson said that it would depend on evidence of radicalism.
“I favor doing whatever we have to do to protect the American people,” he said. “This is what we have to put on the top shelf: protection of our people. If in fact there are mosques where there’s a lot of activity going on that’s radicalizing people, then they should be treated differently.”
A few questions later, one reporter noted that Carson had talked a lot about Nazi Germany, and asked whether “what Donald Trump said last night” reminded Carson of Nazi policies.
“I don’t know what Donald Trump said last night,” Carson responded.
“He said he wanted to track Muslims,” explained a reporter.
“Oh, okay — that part I did hear,” Carson said. “I hope that we have a database on everybody! If we don’t have a database on every foreigner who comes into the country, we’re being negligent. I want us to be able to know who they are; I want us to know where they came from; I want us to know where they’re going and why they’re here.”
“That’s already being done,” interjected the reporter.
Carson replied, “If you want to add more things to that, we can talk about it, and what the rationale is.”
Another reporter tried to land the question. Was Carson talking about adding American citizens to the database?
“American citizens?” he asked. “There already is a database.”
“You’re talking about a more complex database,” said the reporter.
“No, I’m not talking about anything,” said Carson.
“The database you’re describing is already in place,” said the reporter.
“And that’s what I’m saying,” said Carson.
But the topic was not yet exhausted. “In your plan, when you said that mosques should be treated differently — that would presumably entail American citizens who are Muslims having their civil liberties violated,” said a reporter.
“Did you actually hear what I said?” asked Carson. “I said, a mosque where there is activity — terrorist activity or activity encouraging insurgency — should be treated differently. And I would say that about any kind of institution, quite frankly.”
“So, a Christian church?” asked the reporter.
“If they were inciting against the government, and they were trying to create terrorists?” asked Carson. “Of course!”
By this point, halfway through the press conference, it seemed like there was no hypothetical Carson would not answer while declaring pointless.
“Do you think Muslims should be allowed to carry guns?” asked a reporter.
“In France, or in America?” asked Carson, with a grin. “If they are part of America, citizens of America, why would you preclude anybody from the rights anyone else has?”
There were a few more questions, and a few more chances for Carson to criticize how the media approached him — such as how it had insisted he was being anti-Muslim when he compared the uncertainty around Syrian refugees to the threat of a rabid dog.
“Listen to what I’m actually saying, and stop listening to the narrative of people who want to create doubt,” said Carson.
Moments later, Carson was done, and he headed into the hallways of the state house, where at least 300 people had gathered to cheer him on.