President Trump escalated his attack on Sweden’s migration policies on Monday, doubling down on his suggestion — based on a Fox News report — that refugees in the Scandinavian country were behind a surge in crime and terrorism.
Mr. Trump set off consternation and ridicule on Saturday when he seemed to falsely imply to an adoring throng at a rally in Florida that a terrorist attack had occurred in Sweden, which has admitted tens of thousands of refugees in recent years.
On Sunday, as questions swirled, a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that “he was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.”
Mr. Trump then said on Twitter that he was referring to a Fox News segment about an American filmmaker who argues that the police in Sweden were covering up a migrant-driven crime wave.
Officials in both countries expressed alarm and dismay on Monday at Mr. Trump’s remarks. Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the president should get his information from intelligence agencies and not from television. The Swedish Embassy in Washington offered the Trump administration a briefing on its immigration policies. Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said he was surprised by Mr. Trump’s comments, and noted that Sweden ranks highly on international comparisons of economic competitiveness, human development and income inequality.
“We have challenges, no doubt about that,” he allowed, adding: “We must all take responsibility for using facts correctly and for verifying anything we spread.”
Yet even before the prime minister spoke, Mr. Trump pursued his attack. On Twitter, he suggested that the news media was covering up problems related to migration in Sweden.
Follow Donald J. Trump Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!
Immigration is, in fact, a hotly debated issue in Sweden, Germany and many other European countries, and a subject of frequent news coverage.
Moreover, statistics in Sweden do not back Mr. Trump’s claims. Preliminary data released last month by Sweden’s crime prevention council found no appreciable increase in crimes from 2015, when the country processed a record 163,000 asylum applications, to 2016. The council did note an increase in assaults and rapes last year, but also recorded a drop in thefts, robberies and drug offenses.
Officials say they have not seen any evidence for the claim, prevalent in right-wing media like Breitbart and Infowars, that migration has driven a surge in crime. The government has not provided a breakdown of crime statistics according to the ethnic or national background of suspects since 2005, though one right-wing party has called on the government to provide updated statistics.
“The general crime rate in Sweden is below the U.S. national average,” the State Department noted last May.
Although terrorism is a concern for Sweden — an Iraqi-born Swede carried out a suicide bombing in central Stockholm in 2010 — the authorities say they are equally worried about racist hate crimes, including attacks on migrants.
Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, made a jab at Mr. Trump on Twitter: “Just a piece of friendly advice: when you are in a hole, stop digging.”
A terrorism expert, Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm, said that Mr. Trump was trying to shift the focus of his comments from asylum seekers and crime to immigration in general. [...]
Another lawmaker, Pernilla Stalhammar, the foreign policy spokeswoman for the Green Party, expressed surprise that Mr. Trump had relied on Fox News for information about Sweden.
“The problem is that the segment had a lot of incorrect information in it,” she said. “There aren’t any no-go zones in Sweden and the number of crimes against individuals is at about the same level as it was.”
She added: “This incident demonstrates the importance of thoroughly critiquing sources to prevent spreading incorrect images that risk fomenting xenophobic sentiments in society. That Sweden is portrayed incorrectly is very serious. We cannot allow reality to be kidnapped by untruths that become true just because they are repeated enough times.” [...]
Critics of Sweden’s migration policies have pointed to a Facebook post on Feb. 3 by a police officer, Peter Springare, who said that migrants were taxing Sweden’s pension, education and health care systems and that migrants were the principal culprits in assaults. Some of them are without papers and cannot be properly prosecuted, he said.
“Half of the suspects we cannot even be sure of because they don’t have any valid papers,” he wrote. “Most often this means they are lying about their country of origin and identity.”
However, other police officers disagree. The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Monday quoted two police officers interviewed by Mr. Horowitz, Anders Goranzon and Jacob Ekstrom, saying that the filmmaker had selectively edited and distorted their comments to prove his thesis in a video he posted on YouTube. They said Mr. Horowitz had asked them about high-crime neighborhoods, and that they did not agree with his argument about the link between migration and crime.
“This is bad journalism,” Mr. Goranzon said. Mr. Horowitz did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Lofven, the prime minister, told the newspaper Expressen on Feb. 7 that Mr. Springare was exaggerating. “I have a hard time seeing that 100 percent of the police’s investigative capacity is occupied with crimes perpetrated by immigrants,” he said.