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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Biden Takes Trump Quote Out of Context

In a speech that assailed President Donald Trump for a lack of “moral leadership,” Joe Biden falsely claimed that Trump “asserted that immigrants would, quote, ‘carve you up with a knife.’” Trump said that about MS-13 gang members, not immigrants.

Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, delivered a speech in Burlington, Iowa, in response to the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend. He promised to ban semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines used in mass shootings, and criticized Trump for fueling a “rising tide” of “white supremacy.”

In the case of the El Paso shooting, police believe that the alleged shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, posted an anti-immigrant manifesto shortly before the shooting. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” reads the document, which echoes some of the language that Trump has used to describe immigrants seeking asylum or trying to cross the border illegally. 

“We have a problem with this rising tide of supremacy, white supremacy in America, and we have a president who encourages and emboldens it,” Biden said.

But Biden got his facts wrong in one example of what he called Trump’s “toxic tongue.”

Biden, Aug. 7: Days before the midterm, [Trump] fomented fears of a caravan heading to the United States, creating a hysteria when he said, look, look what’s marching up, this is an invasion. An invasion. He asserted that immigrants would, quote, “carve you up with a knife.”

It’s true that Trump regularly used the term “invasion” when referring to illegal immigration at the southern border. USA Today found that he used that word at least 19 times in 64 rallies since 2017.

But Trump didn’t say immigrants would “carve you up with a knife.” He said that about gang members at an Oct. 22, 2018 rally in Houston for Sen. Ted Cruz. At the time, Cruz was running for reelection and facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

“O’Rourke even voted to shield MS-13 gang members from deportation,” Trump said. “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.”

2005 National Gang Threat Assessment report said MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, is a “primarily El Salvadoran” gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s and spread to the East Coast. The gang includes U.S. citizens and immigrants, including some illegal immigrants. 

The gang’s brutal methods for killing its victims have been a staple of Trump’s political events for quite some time. He often relates how MS-13 gang members prefer knives, instead of guns, because they inflict more pain.

Trump, July 25, 2017: One by one we are finding the illegal gang members, drug dealers, thieves, robbers, criminals and killers. And we are sending them the hell back home where they came from. And once they are gone, we will never let them back in. Believe me. The predators and criminal aliens who poison our communities with drugs and prey on innocent young people, these beautiful, beautiful, innocent young people will find no safe haven anywhere in our country. And you’ve seen the stories about some of these animals. They don’t want to use guns, because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.

Trump, July 28, 2017: Together, we’re going to restore safety to our streets and peace to our communities, and we’re going to destroy the vile criminal cartel, MS-13, and many other gangs.  But MS-13 is particularly violent.  They don’t like shooting people because it’s too quick, it’s too fast.  I was reading — one of these animals was caught — in explaining, they like to knife them and cut them, and let them die slowly because that way it’s more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more.

Trump, June 23, 2018: They’re killing people and they don’t kill them with guns. You know, you hear so much about guns. They kill them with knives because they cut them into little pieces because it’s much more painful. They’re taking beautiful young women off the street. You know the father and the mother, two of them, they had a daughter. Two daughters killed so violently by MS-13. Cut up. Cut up. Not shot, cut up, because it’s more painful.

Trump, Jan. 2: If you look at the numbers, you look at the crimes, you look at what we do, what we’re doing now — we’re taking out thousands and thousands of people that are in, as an example, MS-13, the gang — it’s a brutal gang, a vicious gang.  They love using knives because they’re far more painful than guns.

Trump’s right about the group’s brutality. There have been numerous news stories and law enforcement accounts over the years of MS-13 gangs using knives, machetes and baseball bats, among other things, to kill people.