66

A number of news outlets are publishing claims by Kellyanne Conway that the Obama administration put a moratorium on refugee admissions following a "Bowling Green massacre" in 2011.

However, I can't find any reference to such an event in the usual places.

Here is the original interview quote:

I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.

She also referred to the event on at least two other occasions:

  • In a phone interview with cosmopolitan.com:

    [T]wo Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined Isis, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.

  • To TMZ (on video):

    There were two Iraqis who came here, got radicalized, joined Isis, and then were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green attack on our brave soldiers.

Was there ever a "Bowling Green massacre"?

closed as off-topic by Andrew Grimm, Oddthinking Feb 3 '17 at 23:35

  • This question does not appear to be about scientific skepticism within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    Some details on what actually happened here The halt on refugees claim is apparently from an incorrect ABC news story in 2013. – JollyJoker Feb 3 '17 at 12:15
  • 5
    She surely did. "... they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre". If she switched one or two words, I could understand, but how do you misspeak a whole sentence? It's clear to me that she either was under the impression that there was a massacre or she invented it. In any case this is definitely a notable claim, similar to many others that have been answered on this site. – ventsyv Feb 4 '17 at 1:33
  • 4
    @odd A retraction does not mean that a whole slew of people will not parrot the original claim. – fredsbend Feb 4 '17 at 2:11
  • 9
    @Oddthinking The simple fact that this remark is currently all over the place would in my opinion make it still notable. I'm also betting that years from now people are still going to bring up the Bowling Green Massacre whenever arguments on immigration come up. Once the genie is out of the bottle you pretty much can't stuff it back in. – GordonM Feb 4 '17 at 7:38
  • 6
    @Oddthinking The problem with it being non-notable because the speaker withdrew it is problematic in the era of fake news. It will probably be quoted again (minus the retraction) in future stories. I'd argue that a better way to deal with it here would be to include the retraction in an answer so there is a definitive record of the facts. – matt_black Feb 6 '17 at 17:24
86

All the references I can find indicate that this is something Conway invented (or misspoke) to justify Trump's Muslim travel bans. All major news organisations seem to agree on this.

For example:

Vox adds that in 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on suspicion of attempting to help Iraqi insurgents. One of their fingerprints was also found on a bomb in Iraq, but they did not harm anyone in Bowling Green.

Vox also adds that there is a "Massacre" in Bowling Green: it's the name of an alleged haunted house.

Edit: Fox news (which is generally friendly to the administration), in an article titled AP FACT CHECK: Conway says she misspoke on 'massacre' reports the following:

Conway tweeted Friday morning that she meant to say "Bowling Green terrorists" during the interview. She hasn't, however, corrected her characterization of Obama's 2011 policy.

The Obama 2011 policy temporarily halted the processing of refugees, it did not stop all visitors from certain countries. It was also instituted after a specific threat, the Bowling Green plot, not as a general measure.

  • 21
    To clarify the last sentence 'The Massacre' in Bowling Green was a horror attraction - a themed venue. the claim that it was haunted wasn't a serious one. The owners, Horror Industries, moved location several years ago, according to their Facebook page. – Oddthinking Feb 3 '17 at 9:17
  • 1
    Added a Fox News report that Conway tweeted that she "misspoke" – ventsyv Feb 3 '17 at 16:21
  • 5
    You said Conway invented the story and that's assuming intent, which isn't really appropriate for this site. There's no proof that she intended to deceive by inventing the story. It's just as likely that she misspoke, meant to say something else, or simply had a Freudian slip. – LCIII Feb 3 '17 at 20:33
  • @LCIII Regarding her possibly having misspoken: cosmopolitan claims that she used the same phrasing in an interview with them, and the daily beast has a video of her referencing a "bowling green attack" (which didn't happen). – tim Feb 7 '17 at 23:12
  • @LCIII: It's not at all likely that she misspoke. Either it was an invented lie or someone else misinformed her. Her later claim is that she misspoke "massacre" for "terrorist". If one takes her whole statements in context and replaces "massacre" with "terrorist" her statements does not make any sense whatsoever. But I agree that conway invented is not suitable for this site. – sampathsris Feb 8 '17 at 7:15
44

Update: Conway has since tweeted confirming that there was no Bowling Green massacre, claiming it as a mistake:

On @hardball @NBCNews @MSNBC I meant to say "Bowling Green terrorists" as reported here: https://t.co/nB5SwIEoYI [links to ABC article from 2013]


To address Conway's original statement, which said there was a 2011 Bowling Green massacre and that the issue wasn't covered by the media, we need to look at sources other than just media coverage.

The Global Terrorism Database records all attacks, including those with little or no major press coverage and including those that are unsuccessful or where it is ambiguous or debatable whether the attack should be classed as terrorism or not.

Here are all incidents in the US from 2011:
enter image description here

Even by these loose criteria, none of these can be called a massacre, and none are related to any of the places called Bowling Green in the US.


To give two additional sources (these are less authoritative than the GTD and are included simply to test the possibility that there was something that for some reason the GTD might have excluded):

  • Infoplease maintain a list of "Terrorist Attacks in the U.S. or Against Americans". They have only one entry for 2011 which clearly doesn't fit:

    2011 Jan. 17, Spokane, Washington: a pipe bomb is discovered along the route of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial march. The bomb, a "viable device" set up to spray marchers with shrapnel and to cause multiple casualties, is defused without any injuries.

  • Wikipedia maintain lists of "terrorist incidents" in early and late 2011. Neither has any entry for the US (these lists are flagged as "incomplete", so the lack of any items doesn't prove anything on its own, it's just an example of an alternate source that might have shown something missed by other sources, but didn't).


So, no sources have anything remotely resembling a US "Bowling Green Massacre" committed by refugees in the US, including sources like the GTD that attempt to be exhaustive and cover incidents without major media coverage.

  • 7
    I'm a bit entertained that she "misspoke", but her original claim also was that it was never covered, which she disproves by linking to a news report in her tweet. – ceejayoz Feb 3 '17 at 16:35
  • How do we know that the Global Terrorism Database isn't simply missing it? How do they collect data? – indigochild Feb 3 '17 at 22:05
  • 1
    a) That's why I included some other sources, b) They describe that in detail, best place to start is probably here start.umd.edu/gtd/about/History.aspx but they've even published scholarly articles about it. Short answer: lots and lots of different sources, ranging from direct input from partners including international security firms, to machine-learning processing of news sources, and many others – user568458 Feb 6 '17 at 8:56
13

Bowling Green was the location of the terrorists, but the IEDs with Alwan's fingerprints were massacring in Iraq, not in Bowling Green, and in 2005, not 2011.

See Former Iraqi Terrorists Living in Kentucky Sentenced for Terrorist Activities:

Alwan, whose fingerprints were found on an unexploded IED found in Iraq, pleaded guilty earlier in the case on Dec. 16, 2011, to all counts of a 23-count federal indictment. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill U.S. nationals abroad; conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) against U.S. nationals abroad; distributing information on the manufacture and use of IEDs; attempting to provide material support to terrorists and to AQI and conspiring to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles.

See also the earlier 31 May 2011 FBI statement:

Over the course of roughly eight years, Waad Ramadan Alwan allegedly supported efforts to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, first by participating in the construction and placement of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and, more recently, by attempting to ship money and weapons from the United States to insurgents in Iraq. His co-defendant, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, is accused of many of the same activities.

In an ABC news story from 2013 Exclusive: US May Have Let 'Dozens' of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees it is stated:

The case drew attention at the highest levels of government, FBI officials told ABC News, when TEDAC forensic investigators tasked with finding IEDs from Bayji dating back to 2005 pulled 170 case boxes and, incredibly, found several of Alwan's fingerprints on a Senao-brand remote cordless base station. A U.S. military Significant Action report on Sept. 1, 2005 said the remote-controlled trigger had been attached to "three homemade-explosive artillery rounds concealed by gravel with protruding wires."

...

FBI agent Beam told ABC News. "Now you have solidified proof that he was involved in actual attacks against U.S. soldiers

...

The article goes on to explain that there is reason to believe that some of the victims were Pfc. Nathaniel DeTample, 19, Spec. Gennaro Pellegrini, 31, Spec. Francis J. Straub Jr., 24, and Spec. John Kulick, 35.

  • 14
    So... you're saying there was a Bowling Green Massacre of 2011, it just wasn't in 2011, or in Bowling Green, or even in the US (and the guy arrested in Bowling Green might not have been involved, it's just suspected)? This would be a very good answer to a question about the "Bayji bombing of 2005" - but it seems like a heck of a stretch on this question – user568458 Feb 3 '17 at 11:34
  • 1
    @user568458 l don't think "Bowling Green massacre" is a good way to refer to what occurred. The terrorist killed Americans in Iraq and then was brought to America as a refugee. Then he tried to continue killing Americans, but got caught. – DavePhD Feb 3 '17 at 11:50
  • 2
    But the question is "Was there a Bowling Green Massacre in 2011?"... – user568458 Feb 3 '17 at 11:59
  • 1
    Yes, and DavePhD did never say that there was. A sentence to clarify that there never was a Bowling Green Massacre would be appreciated though. – sgf Feb 3 '17 at 12:02
  • 3
    @DavePhD Sure, but listing victims without mentioning it's not certain those two were involved seems wrong. – JollyJoker Feb 3 '17 at 13:18
6

Combining the evidence from the other answers:

  • No, there was no massacre in Bowling Green.
  • Yes, there was a Bowling Green terrorist incident that Conway was referring to, that matches her description with the exception of the word massacre.
  • No, there is no evidence she invented a massacre to justify a ban on immigration from some countries.

The incident being referred to was the conviction of two Iraqi immigrants for conspiring to aid terrorists in Iraq, including supplying them with weapons. They were arrested in Bowling Green.

In the context of the interview (now referenced in the question), it can be seen that Conway only says the word "massacre" once, and is cut off before finishing. In the rest of the interview, she makes occasional disfluencies and errors, and immediately corrects and clarifies herself. In this case, she had no opportunity, as the topic was immediately changed.

Update: A claim has come out since I posted this answer, suggesting Conway previously used the term "Bowling Green Massacre" in an interview on January 29th. This suggests it wasn't a one time mistake. In that interview she demonstrated she knew more of the facts of the case - i.e. that deaths did not occur in Bowling Green - but her account still contained unsubstantiated (possible erroneous) claims. The same article contains links to more of her own defence of her mistake.

She later corrected herself on Twitter:

On @hardball @NBCNews @MSNBC I meant to say "Bowling Green terrorists" as reported here: https://t.co/nB5SwIEoYI

Reporting after the interview seems to have overblown the story: e.g. MSN:

Kellyanne Conway: Trump adviser makes up 'Bowling Green massacre' terror attack to justify travel ban [...] The only problem was that the so-called bloodbath was a figment of Ms Conway’s imagination.

A far more prosaic explanation was the Conway made a single repeated poor selection of words, with no further opportunity to defend or correct the choice during the interview, and which she corrected afterwards.

More importantly, the example of the Bowling Green incident was not invented, and fit as a suitable example into her argument of why the immigration ban should be in place.

  • 10
    To be honest Odd, this looks like the kind of answer you might normally delete: it speculates about Conway's intentions, and discusses the political context around the question and the claim instead of simply addressing "Was there a Bowling Green Massacre in 2011?". It'd be a good Politics answer, but I'm not sure it fits this question here. – user568458 Feb 3 '17 at 15:46
  • 3
    But how was it correct to speak of the two Iraqis as the "masterminds of the Bowling Green incident" if the incident was their conviction? – sgf Feb 3 '17 at 15:49
  • 3
    @sgf If we take Conway literally, she says she meant to say that the Bowling Green terrorists were the "masterminds of the Bowling Green terrorists", so I don't think she meant it literally. Though now we're speculating about what she might or might not have meant again. I'm also not a huge fan of the media-coverage-based approach of the accepted answer (which is why I wrote my own), but to be fair, it's reporting other outlets' verdict, not presenting its own. – user568458 Feb 3 '17 at 15:56
  • 6
    given that she also said at the same time that Obama enacted a ban for refugees from Iraq, which was actually just a slowdown of approvals due to more security measures, I don't see any reason to give her as much benefit of the doubt as you're giving her here. – Mad Scientist Feb 3 '17 at 17:37
  • 6
    The interesting twist here is that she also claimed that this incident didn't get covered, which she has now herself proven to be false, by linking to coverage of the incident in order to prove that the first part of her statement wasn't false. – Jörg W Mittag Feb 3 '17 at 18:24

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .