what was said
“But a lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by Election Day, because they think that’s a negative for us. … They have lousy policy. The one thing, they stick together, but they wanted that caravan and there are those that say that caravan didn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen. A lot of reasons that caravan, 4,000 people.”
— President Trump, at a campaign rally in Missoula, Mont. on Thursday
This lacks evidence.
A caravan of migrants is traveling north toward Mexico and the United States — and prompting alarm and false claims from Mr. Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida.
There is no evidence that George Soros, a billionaire and major Democratic donor, paid thousands of migrants to “storm.” Nor is there evidence that Democrats support the effort, as Mr. Trump has said.
Mr. Gaetz is wrong about several things in his description of the video he posted.
First, it was not shot in Honduras, which he later acknowledged. Google Maps and Facebook photos place the storefront seen in the video, an auto parts shop, in Chiquimula, Guatemala. As Kirk Semple of The New York Times reported, the migrant caravan was formed last week in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and has made its way north through Guatemala.
Second, Mr. Gaetz’s speculation that the migrants were being offered cash to join the caravan by Mr. Soros is unfounded. Open Society Foundations, Mr. Soros’s philanthropic organization, has denied any involvement.
Luis Assardo, a Guatemalan journalist, said in an email that he spoke to residents of Chiquimula and was told that some local merchants had given the migrants money while others had offered food, clothing or other help.
The video appears to show each migrant receiving a single bill, so the largest amount they could have received been was 200 quetzales, equal to about $26. Migrants in the caravan told The Times that the Guatemalans generally handed out one or two quetzals, or about 13 to 26 cents — undercutting Mr. Trump’s claim of “a lot of money” exchanging hands.
The migrants said they were not paid to join the caravan.
In an interview, Mr. Gaetz says he now suspects that the men handing out money were cartel members trying to sow good will and subvert the government. He is also concerned that American NGOs were involved in organizing the caravan but concedes that “they may not be.” He emphasized that he was merely asking questions — and is “still asking.”
The notion that refugees will leave their homes solely for a little cash is “crazy,” said Alex Mensing, a project coordinator with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a transnational group that organized a migrant caravan that captured Mr. Trump’s attention last spring. (The group did not coordinate the caravan that is now traveling north, but has been organizing similar journeys for years.)
“You don’t have to pay people to try save their own lives,” Mr. Mensing said. “They are fleeing violence, death threats or economic violence.”
There is similarly no evidence that Democrats “wanted that caravan.” Though Democrats (and many Republicans) oppose the Trump administration’s policy of separating families detained at the border, Democrats have supported legislation to improve border security.
Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, pointed to legislation proposed in the Senate that tries to “address the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis” by expanding refugee processing in other countries and targeting drug cartels.
“Trump has turned to fear mongering and conspiracy theories in order to push his anti-immigrant agenda,” Mr. Wessel said.
Maya Averbuch and Megan Specia contributed reporting.
Source: Twitter, Google Maps, Facebook, Luis Assardo, Alex Mensing, The New York Times