Rachel Maddow Defends Niger Theory After Experts Call It 'Conspiracymongering'

The MSNBC host suggested Trump's travel ban may have caused the deadly ambush. Experts disagree.

Rachel Maddow on Friday doubled down on her controversial reporting on the deadly Niger ambush on U.S. troops, in which she linked President Donald Trump’s travel ban with the deaths of four soldiers.

Maddow’s report, delivered Thursday and reiterated Friday, strongly suggested that Trump’s addition of Chad to his travel ban prompted the country to withdraw its U.S.-partnered counterterrorism troops in Niger, thus causing an increase in attacks by the self-described Islamic State in the area.

“Over the course of the day today lots of people have been very upset with me for reporting that last night, which is fine. I didn’t know you cared,” Maddow said in her Friday segment.

“But the upset over my reporting doesn’t mean that anything I reported wasn’t true. Everything I reported was true.”

Watch Maddow’s original Niger report from Thursday below.

Andrew Lebovich, a PhD candidate in African History at Columbia University and a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, called out the segment on Twitter, arguing, “these things are not linked, they have to do with areas on literal opposite ends of the country.”

The MSNBC host on Friday also briefly attempted to hedge her speculation, before adamantly reinforcing her theory once again.

“Now, this doesn’t mean that Chad withdrawing their troops was necessarily the cause of what happened to those U.S. troops who were ambushed,” Maddow said.

Then, spinning off into another tangent, she added:

“But honestly, if you are looking at the central domestic mystery here, which is why didn’t the president even acknowledge those deaths, in the worse combat causalities of his presidency ...

If you are interested in the central mystery of why the president is so reluctant to talk about that or take questions on that ― well it really is true, his administration just took what is widely believed to be absolutely inexplicable action to alienate, anger and insult the country that has been our most effective military partner against Islamic militants in the part of the world where these attacks just happened.”

Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger after a group of 50 militants affiliated with the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara ambushed the patrol team during a routine train-and-advise mission.

More than two weeks after the ambush, still not much is known about why the troops were under-protected and why they were there in the first place.

Maddow’s theory on the ambush drew sharp criticism from experts familiar with the region, including assistant professor Laura Seay of Colby College’s Department of Government, who spoke to HuffPost’s Willa Frej after Maddow’s segment aired.

“No, that’s crazy,” Seay said of Maddow’s suggestion that Chadian troops were battling ISIS in Niger. “Everybody that I know is appalled by this. I would like to think that Maddow’s researchers are more responsible.”

After Maddow defended her Niger reporting on Friday, Seay tweeted at the MSNBC host to “sort out the facts.”

Maddow “told her audience that the Chadians were protecting civilians from ISIS,” Seay wrote. “They were not.”

In a column for Slate, Seay warned that Maddow’s “irresponsible conspiracymongering” could lead left-leaning individuals down a rabbit hole similar to conservatives who blame the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on the Obama administration.

Seay wrote: “Maddow’s approach to this story — ‘just asking questions’ that are neither based in evidence nor likely to contribute to an accurate understanding of what happened in Niger and why — drags liberals down the same path that conservatives traveled with Benghazi, one of irrational, fearmongering claims that only serve to prolong the suffering of the families of the fallen while doing nothing to explain the root causes of the event.”

“In doing so,” she added, “Maddow also preyed upon Americans’ lack of knowledge about Africa, a widespread problem that ranges from not understanding how large the continent is to major news organizations mislabeling maps for national broadcast.”

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