Mr ‘immune’ Trump back on campaign trail with a roar

US President Donald Trump throws a face mask from the stage during a campaign rally, his first since being treated for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Florida, US, October 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Mr ‘immune’ Trump back on campaign trail with a roar

  • Trump wanted to show he can defy the pandemic
  • Trump talks of enjoying a "protective glow" after getting over COVID-19

SANFORD, United States: Immune to COVID! Stronger than Joe Biden! Superman? Not quite, but Donald Trump wants America to know he's back.
"Here we are!" he cried with a triumphant roar — made slightly hoarse by his bout with COVID-19 — at the opening of a rally in Sanford, Florida, on Monday.
Just a week after getting out of hospital with the coronavirus, Trump strode onto the stage, tossing out face masks, like a rock star handing out autographs.
But he wasn't wearing a mask himself.
And neither was anyone else, barring a small minority, in the crowd of several thousand, who were jammed cheek and jowl to witness the Republican's return to the campaign trail.
Which was the whole point.
Trump wanted to show he can defy the pandemic and his seemingly plummeting chances of beating Democratic candidate Biden alike.
Loud, coarse at times, diving into his well-worn jokes, and freely insulting opponents and journalists, Trump didn't sound like a clinically obese man of 74 who only a few days ago was being administered oxygen by doctors.
"They say I'm immune," he boasted. "I feel so powerful."
From ditching his mask to parking the iconic Air Force One jumbo right behind the podium, this was a rally stage-managed to push Trump's image as freak of nature unbound by the laws governing ordinary folks.
Maybe he wasn't wearing a Superman shirt under his suit, as The New York Times reported he considered doing on being discharged from hospital October 5, but the crowd wouldn't have been fazed had he done so.
"We love you, we love you," they cheered.
That defiance was on show even before Trump left Washington.
Waiting for Trump's motorcade to come snaking across the rain soaked concrete at Joint Base Andrews, staff could be seen mopping and wiping down surfaces in the press cabin of Air Force One.
Unlike on past trips — even throughout the COVID period — staff, Secret Service agents and Air Force personnel all wore masks.
There'd been real tension around the trip: the White House has become a COVID-19 hotspot in the last 10 days, becoming a living symbol of Trump's hands-off approach to a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
So the White House had assured the traveling pool of journalists that every person boarding the plane would first be tested for the coronavirus and anyone interacting with reporters would wear a mask.
But when the massive motorcade finally rolled up alongside Air Force One, it was jarring to see Trump step from his black armored SUV with no mask, the sole bare face in the entire cavalcade.
With a thumbs up to the press, he quickly boarded the plane, even jogging on one of the steps — an apparently deliberate show of vitality.
Trump talks of enjoying a "protective glow" after getting over COVID-19.
The way Trump tells it, his special powers make him invincible against Biden too. Since reemerging from heavy treatment for the coronavirus he has mocked the Democrat's travel schedule, his mask wearing and coughing.
"He's got no strength left, he's got no power left," Trump told Monday's crowd.
"He may be the worst presidential candidate in history and I got him," he scoffed.
The polls do not bear this out.
They consistently show Trump far behind Biden, potentially heading toward a defeat of landslide proportions.
They show an overwhelming majority of Americans angry at Trump's handling of the pandemic. They show women and the elderly — two key voting groups — abandoning Trump.
But Trump has spent a lifetime perfecting the art of creating a story about himself and on Monday night in Florida, at least, he was able to tell his story to an audience that hung on every word.
"These are the real polls," he said, gazing over the thick crowd of supporters in red "Make American Great Again" baseball caps.
They cheered.


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”