Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump this weekend said he observed "thousands and thousands" of Arab Americans in New Jersey "cheering as the World Trade Center came down" on 9/11.
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down," Trump told a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday evening. "And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. So something’s going on. We’ve got to find out what it is.”
Speaking by phone with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week program on Sunday morning, Trump doubled down on the comments:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, the police say that didn't happen and all those rumors have been on the internet for some time. So did you...misspeak yesterday?
TRUMP: It did happen. I saw it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw that?
TRUMP: It was on television. I saw it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: With your own eyes?
TRUMP: George, it did happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Police say it didn't happen.
TRUMP: There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down, and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don't like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.
Footage was screened of some Muslims cheering in the Middle East on September 11, 2001, but internet rumors about Muslims in New Jersey cheering as the Twin Towers fell were debunked by local police at the time, according to the New York Times and ABC News.
Hope Hicks, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, did not immediately return a request for more information on the source for the candidate's claims.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that Trump's claims were "absurd."
George Pataki, another Republican contender who served as NY Governor at the time of the attacks, also condemned the comments:
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told BuzzFeed News Trump was "either mistaken or he's lying."
"This has been one of these vile memes on the anti-Islam hate sites for some time, but there's actually no evidence to support it whatsoever," Hooper said. "And it'd be interesting if he personally saw it. That would be quite interesting since it didn't happen."
"You could understand somebody making a mistake of fact the first time, but the second time where he restates it and expands on it, it sends the message that he doesn't actually care whether it's true or not as long as it panders to the worst or lowest common denominator of his supporters," Hooper said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the Anti-Defamation League, an international NGO that monitors anti-Semitism, said: “It is unfortunate that Donald Trump is giving new life to long-debunked conspiracy theories about 9/11.”
On Sunday evening, New Jersey Gov. Chris Chistie was also asked by reporters about Trump's comments:
QUESTION: Governor, you were in New Jersey in 2001 right after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Do you recall ever seeing – were there ever instances in Jersey City of thousands of people cheering?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I don’t recall that. I don’t. I mean, listen, I can’t say, Matt, I can’t say that I have – it was a pretty emotional time for me because, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s family involved, there’s friends involved and so it was a pretty harrowing time. I do not remember that. And so, it’s not something that was part of my recollection. I think if it had happened, I would remember it. But, you know, there could be things I forget, too. I don’t remember that. No.
During his ABC interview, Trump also said he was "not at all" backing away from comments he had made about establishing a database for Muslims in America, although he later said he was referring specifically to refugees.
"We have no idea who these people are," he said. "When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don't know if they're ISIS, we don't know if it's a Trojan horse and I definitely want a database and other checks and balances."
More than half of U.S. governors have said they are opposed to accepting refugees from Syria after the Paris attacks, which were claimed by ISIS.
"It's probably not, but it could be the great Trojan horse of all time," Trump said of the Obama administration's plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in the next year.
Federal officials have repeatedly underscored the extensive, years-long security vetting refugees must undergo to win asylum in the United States.