Biden Takes Trump's Comments on MS-13 Out of Context

Politifact rates Biden's claim that Trump accused all immigrants of violence 'false'

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden / Getty Images
August 9, 2019

Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden on Wednesday claimed President Donald Trump asserted that immigrants would "carve you up with a knife," but Biden took Trump's words out of context and didn't mention he was referring to the murderous MS-13 gang.

During a campaign event in Iowa earlier in the week, Biden said Presidents "can encourage us to appeal to our better angels, our better nature." He went on to say they "can also unleash the deepest, darkest forces in the nation. That is what I believe Donald Trump has chosen to do."

"Days before the midterm," Biden continued, "he fomented fears of a caravan headed to the United States and created hysteria when he said, ‘Look, look at what's marching up. This is an invasion.’ He asserted that immigrants would quote, ‘carve you up with a knife.'"

While Trump has repeatedly mentioned "caravans" and an "invasion," Politifact is rating Biden's claim on Trump warning about immigrants carving Americans with a knife as "false."

Trump was attacking then-U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke (D., Texas), who is currently running for president, at a Texas rally last October when he made the comments.

"O'Rourke voted against the border wall," Trump said during the rally. "He voted against Kate's law. And he voted for Obama amnesty. O'Rourke even voted to shield MS-13 gang members from deportation. He doesn't want to deport them. He says they're people. They're people. They carve you up with a knife, but they're people."

"MS-13 is a violent transnational gang with members primarily in Central America and the United States. Trump’s words were clearly aimed at gang members, not all immigrants," Politifact wrote. "For the record, O’Rourke did not vote to shield MS-13 members from deportation. PolitiFact Texas dug into a U.S. House dispute over a bill that would give U.S. officials more leeway in defining gangs. Democrats argued that officials already had the authority to deport anyone suspected of gang involvement."

This isn't the first time Trump's criticism of MS-13 has been taken out of context. Back in April, MSNBC and CNN spread a false impression that Trump referred to immigrants as "animals," the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The confusion stemmed from an unverified Twitter user identified as Mark Elliott, who tweeted out a short clip of Trump Friday and accused him of referring to asylum seekers by the insulting moniker.

However, the clip was from May 2018, and Trump was responding to a question about the transnational street gang MS-13. Nevertheless, multiple news outlets and politicians ran with the idea he had referred to all immigrants as "animals" last year as well.

Despite the clip being old and well-known in political circles due to its litigation last year, dozens of politicians—including presidential candidates–journalists, and celebrities shared the tweet and expressed outrage over it.

The MS-13 gang, which is mostly concentrated in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, has about 8,000 to 10,000 members in the United States, according to 2009 FBI statistics cited in the Washington Post. Earlier this year, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed about 100 times and then his body was dumped and set on fire. Five MS-13 members, who were based in Fairfax, Va., were arrested and charged for first-degree murder along with other charges, the Post reported.