So Donald Trump Jr. put out a tweet that caused a lot of people to feign outrage. In particular, the juicebox journalists at Vox saw an opportunity to mock Trump Jr. and make him look like an idiot. Now, I don’t worship at the altar of Donald Trump Jr., or Donald Trump Sr. for that matter. But I’m not impressed with Vox’s attempted take down.
Here’s what Trump Jr. tweeted.
And here’s Vox’s response:
A report released last week by the Cato Institute measured the risk to Americans posed by refugees. The report found that an American’s chances of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack in any given year are 1 in 3.64 billion. America’s murder rate — at 4.5 per 100,000 capita — is about 163,800 times higher.
As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out, adhering to Trump’s analogy, a bowl with three deadly Skittles (refugees) in it would need to contain 10.93 billion Skittles. Bump calculated this to be the equivalent of 1.5 Olympic-size swimming pools full of the candy. This would equate to a bowl of Skittles roughly 246 feet long, 123 feet high, and 9 feet deep.
Below, Vox graphics editor Javier Zarracina has depicted what that bowl would look like. Donald Trump Jr. (6-foot-1) is included for scale, along with the original bowl in his tweet.
Trump Jr.’s bowl is a metaphor. Everybody knows that metaphors are not to be taken literally. That’s why they’re called ‘metaphors’ and not ‘statistics.’ To pretend that somebody’s metaphor was intended to serve as a statistic is not intellectually honest and just plain bad sport.
But in any event, Vox in its attempt at literalism has misinterpreted Trump Jr.’s analogy. The bowl is intended to represent a population of Syrians (or people claiming to be Syrian refugees), the three deadly skittles are the terrorists among that population, and the handful taken from the bowl are the Syrians granted entry to the U.S. as refugees. The three skittles in a bowl therefore, represent the proportion (not to be taken literally) of terrorists in the population from which refugee migrants are drawn.
The ‘1 in 3.64 billion’ figure that Vox imposes on the analogy, however, represents something completely different. That figure is not the proportion of terrorists in a specific population but rather the probability that a typical American, in a year, will be killed in a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee. ‘Three in a bowl’ and ‘1 in 3.64 billion’ are ratios of different things; one refers to terrorists among a population of refugees or potential refugees, the other deaths among a population of Americans. In attempting to use literalism to show that Trump Jr. is “completely wrong,” Vox has literally gotten their own analogy wrong.
Furthermore, Cato’s ‘1 in 3.64 billion’ statistic is fatuous. Cato arrived at this figure by looking at how many Americans were killed by foreign born terrorists who entered the United States with a refugee visa. Over the last 41 years, they found only 3 Americans killed. The reason why the figure is so low is because most terrorists in the past have used means other than refugee visas to enter the country. So the nearly 3,000 killed on 9/11/2001 don’t enter the figures, because the terrorists who carried out that attack entered the United States with student visas, not refugee visas.
The fact is that for most of those 41 years, the U.S. did not take in very many refugees, and those that did come were mostly not from parts of the world plagued by terrorism. So yes, Vietnamese boat people who arrived in the 1970s did not engage in terrorism against Americans. What Cato is assuming is that since the Vietnamese didn’t engage in terrorism, Syrians and Afghans and Somalis won’t either. That’s a pretty heroic assumption.
The 3 deaths in the entire Cato database occurred in the bombing of the Boston Marathon. That bombing was carried out by refugees from Chechnya. Now, the number of Chechens in the U.S. is very small. But bringing in even a relatively tiny number of Chechen refugees got the Boston Marathon blown up. If Cato computed a rate of terrorism for specifically Chechen refugees, the rate would look pretty high.
Cato found only the three Americans killed, but they didn’t count killings by second-generation refugees who were born in the U.S. As a result, they didn’t count this summer’s Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 49 people. But by all means, Vox, let’s continue to take literally that figure based on just three deaths.
Cato confined its focus to just those three deaths in the U.S., but Europe would provide more examples of refugee terrorism.
Loose screening of refugees, lax counter-terrorism policies and lenient treatment of those with terrorist links or sympathies has led to a spate of attacks by terrorists already flagged by authorities. Tuesday’s attack in France, where a jihadist already under house arrest slit a priest’s throat, came just two days after a suicide bombing in Germany by a terrorist who a medical expert had predicted would “commit suicide in a spectacular fashion.” Critics say such cases are piling up.
Germany is reeling from a fresh wave of terrorism this month, including the Ansbach attack and another July 18, in which Mohammed Riyad took an ax to passengers on a Bavarian train, yelling “Alahu Akbar” as he injured five. Riyad claimed to be from Afghanistan, but authorities now believe he may be from Pakistan, and lied to have a better chance at asylum.
There are currently 59 ongoing investigations of refugees because of the “suspicion that they are involved in terrorist structures,” according to Germany’s interior ministry.
The Cato figure of 1 death in 3.64 billion is absurd on its face. The figure implies that a country of 310 million people would experience only .085 deaths per year, or one death every 11.7 years. That’s the sort of estimate you obtain when you assume that 3 deaths in 41 years represents a rate that can be projected into the future.
In the U.S., just this past weekend we saw a Somali refugee go on a knifing spree at a Minnesota shopping mall, and an Afghan refugee arrested on suspicion of planting a series of bombs in New Jersey and New York City. It’s very fortunate that no one was killed in those attacks, but dozens were sent to the hospital.
Does anybody really believe that the U.S. can take in hundreds of thousands of additional refugees from the Middle East, with ISIS actively seeking to infiltrate Western countries, and expect only one death from terrorism every 11.7 years?
I’m willing to put up $10,000 of my own money that, if the refugee flow continues, we’ll see more than one death in the next 11 years. Any takers? Cato? Vox? I officially challenge them to take up the bet.
Exit question: At what point do the Voxers stop pretending to be journalists and decide what they’re going to be when they grow up?