The following post first appeared on FactCheck.org.
Sen. Rand Paul said the attack in Garland, Texas, was “an example of how we do need to secure our border,” but neither of the attackers crossed the southern border to gain access to the U.S. Both were Americans who were believed to have been radicalized in their hometown of Phoenix.
The two men were shot dead after wounding a security guard while trying to shoot their way into a Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest.
During an interview on Fox News on May 5, host Greta Van Susteren asked Paul, who formally announced his candidacy for president on April 7, if he would call what happened an act of terrorism.
Paul, May 5: Absolutely, it’s terrorism. I think it’s an example of how we do need to secure our border. I’m not sure where they came from but we do need to secure our southern border.
Van Susteren: They’re Americans.
Paul: We still need to secure our southern border. The other thing I would say, though, is we also need to secure who visits us in the country. And apparently, one of them had already been investigated over time. Maybe those who have been investigated need to be followed a little more closely.
Since Paul plowed right through Van Susteren’s correction, let’s repeat it. Both of the attackers — Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson — were Americans. They did not gain entry to the U.S. through the southern border. They were not visitors.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Soofi was born in Dallas to an American mother and a Pakistani father, and spent the first three years of his life in Garland, Texas, before moving to Plano, Texas, and then Alabama. When Soofi’s parents split up, Soofi moved in the 1990s to Pakistan to live with his father, and he attended the prestigious private school the International School of Islamabad for six years. In 1998, Soofi returned to the U.S. to live with his mother, first in Utah, where he briefly attended the University of Utah, and then, ultimately in Phoenix. It was there that Soofi met Simpson, and according to friends, where he became radicalized.
As Paul noted, Simpson was on the radar of federal law enforcement officials. In 2009, Simpson was recorded by an FBI informant making plans to join fellow jihadists in Somalia. Simpson was cleared on terrorism charges, but a judge concluded Simpson made false statements to the FBI about plans to travel to Somalia. He was sentenced to three years of probation, which ended last year. According to the Houston Chronicle, federal authorities had an open investigation into Simpson at the time of the shooting.
But neither man needed to sneak into the U.S. via the southern border. Nor were they visitors to the U.S. They were both American citizens living in Phoenix as roommates, and both were believed to have been radicalized in Arizona, largely via the Internet. To suggest this particular case is an example of the need to secure the southern border is simply wrong.
Update, May 11: The Paul campaign says Paul never claimed the Texas attackers crossed the border illegally or that they were visitors to the country. It says Paul was making the point that securing the border should be part of the national defense against terrorism.
While this may have been the intent of Paul’s statement, we think his wording – that the shooting is “an example of how we do need to secure our border” — would leave viewers with a different impression.