If you believe the media in Sweden, Friday night was relatively uneventful. Among the most noteworthy headlines in the country were reports that a popular Swedish singer had technical problems during a music competition.
But if you listened to President Trump on Saturday, it seemed as if something happened Friday night in Sweden that deserved the attention of the world. However, nobody knew what that might be, least of all the Swedes.
During a rally Saturday in Florida, Trump referred to several countries that have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees and that have recently been the target of attacks. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Trump went on to refer to Paris, Nice, France, and Brussels, European cities where attacks have occurred in the past two years.
A spokeswoman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press on Sunday that authorities were not aware of any “terror-linked major incidents” that occurred Friday night in Sweden. According to the spokeswoman, the Swedish Embassy in Washington has asked the State Department to clarify Trump’s remarks.
Trump himself later attempted to clarify the remarks, tweeting: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”
My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2017
He was probably referring to a Tucker Carlson interview with Ami Horowitz. The filmmaker has blamed refugees for a purported crime wave in Sweden and alleged that authorities are trying to cover up the incidents.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, addressing the matter on Sunday, told reporters that Trump “was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident.”
Trump’s new tweet came after speculation over the incident he referred to had circulated on social media for nearly a day. Although he did not explicitly say it, his remarks were widely perceived as suggesting that an attack occurred Friday night in Sweden. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter.
Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. https://t.co/XWgw8Fz7tj
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) February 19, 2017
Others reacted by posting photos of how they believe Sweden really looked Friday night, using the hashtag #LastNightInSweden.
Sweden, you ok? Call me.
— Stephen Mangan (@StephenMangan) February 19, 2017
The White House already faced criticism this month after it included an incident in the Swedish city of Malmo on its list of allegedly underreported terrorist attacks. In October, arson caused smoke damage at an Iraqi community center in Malmo. A judge, however, ruled that there was no evidence that the incident was a “terror attack” — months before the White House released the list that referred to the incident.
Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe at the height of the migrant influx in 2015. The country has long viewed itself as having a moral obligation to take in refugees from war-torn countries. But Sweden reached its limits as other European Union neighbors refused to fulfill their commitments.
The influx of refugees has not come without problems in Sweden, but mainstream politicians and immigration experts say the criticism has been disproportionate. In summer 2016, Swedish embassies were tasked to counter rumors or false information about Sweden’s experience with taking in large numbers of immigrants.
Speaking Friday, one day before Trump made his remarks, Henrik Selin of the Swedish Institute said there are “people whose political agenda suggests they would like to tell the story of countries not being able to receive that many refugees, who seem to want to exaggerate problems,” according to Radio Sweden.
Although Sweden views itself as increasingly isolated in regard to its pro-immigration stance, the country found widespread support on social media Sunday. “Dear @realDonaldTrump,” Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister of Finland, tweeted. “Sweden is immigration friendly, international & liberal. One of the most prosperous, richest, safest places on earth.”
Dear @realDonaldTrump, Sweden is immigration friendly, international & liberal. One of the most prosperous, richest, safest places on earth.
— Alexander Stubb (@alexstubb) February 19, 2017
And a country with relatively calm Friday nights, it seems.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.