he idea of a so-called Muslim registry or Muslim database has been back in the news in recent days after a pair of high-profile Donald Trump supporters rekindled it.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a rumored potential pick for Trump’s attorney general — talked to Reuters on Tuesday about the Trump administration implementing one. By Wednesday, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie cited Japanese American internment camps during World War II as “precedent” for doing such a thing.
But it’s worth noting how this idea evolved over the course of Trump’s campaign.
What Kobach and Higbie are talking about is actually less far-reaching than the Muslim database that Trump suggested he might support as a candidate. Although they are talking about a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries — similar to one Kobach helped implement as a staff member in the George W. Bush Justice Department that was scrapped in 2011 — Trump at times expressed an openness to a database for all Muslims in the United States.
The idea for both versions is basically that radical Islam poses such a threat that Muslims — irrespective of their potential ties to extremism — should be on some kind of registry so they can be tracked.
Trump has not stated clearly exactly what he favors, and he has even disputed reports that he supports the broader version of the Muslim database. But he has also pointedly declined to rule it out.
In other words, as with many policies he might push as president, we just don’t know exactly what he’ll do — until he steps forward and says it himself. And he has offered plenty of conflicting signals.
So how did we get to this point? And what exactly has Trump said? Let’s recap.
A noncommittal start
Almost exactly one year ago, on Nov. 19, 2015, Trump was asked by a Yahoo News reporter what measures he might take when it came to his stated proposal to increase surveillance of Muslims in the United States.
“We’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” Trump said. Asked about registering Muslims in a database or noting their religion on IDs, Trump responded: “We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Asked the following day again whether he supported a Muslim database, Trump was again oblique: “There should be a lot of systems — beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” Trump then began talking about a border wall.
The MSNBC reporter followed up: “But that’s something your White House would like to implement?”
Trump responded: “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”
It wasn’t clear whether the “that” he was referring to was a database or “a lot of systems” or a border wall. But the reporter then asked how he would register people, and Trump’s responses suggested that he supported a database.
“It would just be good management,” he said. When asked whether they would be required to register, he responded: “They have to be — they have to be. Let me just tell you: The key is people can come to the country, but they have to come legally.”
Trump disputes it — somewhat
Later that same day, Trump disputed the reports saying he had endorsed a Muslim database, but he still didn’t say he disagreed with it.
Still later that day, though, Trump again left open the possibility. Asked on Fox News Channel whether he would support a “full Muslim database,” he said, “Basically the suggestion was made and [is] certainly something we should start thinking about. … But certainly I would want to have a database for the refugees — for the Syrian refugees that are coming in, because nobody knows where they’re coming from.”
The database is ‘all right’ and ‘okay’
The following day in Alabama, Trump seemed to lean in more toward some kind of a database, saying it would be “all right” and “okay” but again quibbled with the idea that it was a big deal.
“So the database — I said yeah, that’s all right, fine,” he said. “But they also said the wall, and I said the wall, and I was referring to the wall. But database is okay, and watch list is okay, and surveillance is okay. … And the biggest story yesterday — the biggest — was ‘Trump wants database on Muslims.’ I said, ‘What’s all happening here?’ ”
A day later, Trump again left open the possibility. Asked by ABC News if he would rule out a database on all Muslims, he said no, but then shifted to talking about a database just of refugees.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I want a database for the refugees that — if they come into the country. We have no idea who these people are. When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don’t know if they’re ISIS, we don’t know if it’s a Trojan horse.
“And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watch lists. We want to go with databases. And we have no choice.”
The issue was soon overshadowed by Trump’s proposal in December to ban all Muslim immigration — which he may or may not have walked back since then. And in an anti-terrorism speech in June, he made no mention of a database or registry.
But judging from these comments, it’s little surprise that the Trump transition team is looking at some kind of database involving Muslims or Muslim countries. The real question from here is how far they take the idea.