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Trump refers to nonexistent Swedish incident, internet's jaw drops

Commentary: In Sweden, they're frantically seeking a supposed major incident that happened there. No Swede knows about it, but the US president does.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


President Donald Trump at his rally, which did not take place in Sweden.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

The only reliable news these days is news that comes straight from the president's mouth.

At least, that's the feeling in some quarters.

On Saturday, therefore, there was panic in the internet's streets after President Donald Trump referred to various terrorist incidents in Europe during a rally in Melbourne, Florida, and included one that seemed new.

He declared: "You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

Would you believe this? Sweden. Actually, quite a few Swedes couldn't believe it. That's principally because they had no idea what the president was talking about.

For example, this on Twitter from former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt: "Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound."

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for more information about Sweden.

Many of the world's Twitterers, though, had already turned their questions on Saturday to the @Sweden account, where every week a different citizen helps the world learn about the country.

This week it was a school librarian called Emma Johansson who clearly searched and searched before revealing: "My attack #lastnightinsweden was on the chicken dinner hubby made me. :-P."

She answered many questions as Saturday rolled on. Finally, there was a glint of where the president might have got his news. "What Trump might be referring to is an interview done in Foxe [sic] News where a documentary film maker, Ami Horowitz, talks about Sweden," she tweeted.

There was, indeed, a segment on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" show in which violence allegedly committed by refugees was discussed, with the suggestion that this had caused a general rise in the crime rate.

On Sunday, Trump confirmed via Twitter that his source was indeed a Fox show. "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden," he said.

Even so, the issues discussed in that segment were a little different from "about last night..."

A Swedish crime survey offers that the nation's crime rate is relatively stable. And there hasn't been a terrorist attack in Sweden since 2013.

Indeed, as historian Simon Schama tweeted: "The real Swedish message: 200,000 refugees, no terrorist attacks."

The hashtag #lastnightinsweden soon became a trending item on Twitter. Jeanna Skinner, for example, offered this witticism: "After the terrible events #lastnightinSweden, IKEA have sold out of this." She accompanied her tweet with an image of an IKEA version of the vaunted border wall.

Of course, terrorism is a serious issue, one that ought to be far above the peddling of so-called fake news.

@Sweden's johansson was bemused by it all. "It's... just so insane. And is giving me a headach. [sic] And a craving for chocolate."

It seemed to be giving other Swedes a headache too. In reply to Trump's explanation, the Swedish Embassy in the US tweeted: "We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies."

Updated 2:08 p.m. PT: Adds explanation from Trump.

Updated 4:13 p.m. PT: Adds response from Swedish Embassy.


Life, disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it?

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.