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In 2016, Trump Claimed Obama Founded ISIS. 2 Days Later: 'I Was Being Sarcastic'

Trump called then-President Barack Obama the "founder of Isis" and Hillary Clinton the group's "co-founder" in an August 2016 campaign speech.

Published March 23, 2024

 ( Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images

After the Muslim extremist group ISIS-K claimed responsibility for a deadly armed attack on concertgoers at Moscow's Crocus City Hall on March 22, 2024, killing more than 130 people, a 2016 statement by then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump went viral in which he claimed that then-outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama had been "the founder of ISIS."

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Trump made the statement after reiterating the claim that he, Trump, had opposed the war in Iraq, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying it had destabilized and "unleashed fury" in the Middle East (emphasis added):

And then Obama came in, and normally you want to clean up. He made a bigger mess out of it. He made such a mess. And then you had Hillary with Libya, so sad. In fact, in many respects, you know they honor President Obama. ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder. He founded ISIS.  And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton. Co-founder. Crooked Hillary Clinton. 

As was common at Trump campaign rallies when he mentioned Clinton, then his Democratic rival for the presidency, the audience responded with chants of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" This video clip of that moment was provided by The Guardian:

To be clear, even though Trump has flirted in the past with conspiracy theories about Obama's supposed allegiance to Islam, he was not literally, in this instance, claiming that Obama and Clinton were founding members of the radical Islamist group (despite his insistence to the contrary in a radio interview the following day). The context indicates he meant it metaphorically, his intent being to lay all the blame for the "fury" unleashed in the Middle East and the rise of ISIS violence after the Iraq War on the actions or inactions of the Democratic incumbent and presidential nominee (though in fact the war started during the administration of President George W. Bush).

All too many of Trump's followers seem willing to believe that Obama's true allegiance lies with radical Islam, however. "In the mind of the average American, there is no doubt he is a Muslim," Trump campaign official Carl Paladino claimed during an interview. "He is not a Christian."

But after two days of repeatedly insisting he was serious, and that he literally meant that Obama founded ISIS, Trump tweeted on Aug. 12, 2016, that he was only being sarcastic:

Hours later, Trump said during a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, "So I said, the founder of ISIS. Obviously I'm being sarcastic. Then, then — but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you. "

Sources

"Explainer: What Is ISIS-K, the Group That Attacked a Moscow Concert Hall?" Reuters, 23 Mar. 2024. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/why-did-isis-k-attack-moscow-theater-2024-03-23/.

Full Video: Trump Says Obama Founded ISIS at Florida Rally. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y43qMPEleuU. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

Holmes, Chris Moody, Kristen. "Donald Trump's History of Suggesting Obama Is a Muslim | CNN Politics." CNN, 18 Sept. 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/18/politics/trump-obama-muslim-birther/index.html.

Kopan, Tal. "Donald Trump: I Meant That Obama Founded ISIS, Literally | CNN Politics." CNN, 11 Aug. 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/11/politics/donald-trump-hugh-hewitt-obama-founder-isis/index.html.

News, ABC. "Trump Says Remark About Obama Being ISIS Founder Was 'Not That Sarcastic.'" ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-explains-calling-obama-founder-isis-sarcasm/story?id=41326238. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.