The NYPD Surveillance Program kept NYC safe since 9/11. There will be tragic consequences for ending it.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2014
I didn't suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2015
To Put this in context, the first tweet from April 2014 is in reference to the NYPD discontinuing the Demographics Unit (later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit),which was created a year after the 9/11 attacks to conduct suspicion-less, blanket surveillance of Muslim communities in New York City. The New York Times put out an article about this a week before Trump sent out a tweet lamenting the end of the surveillance program. The Demographics Unit sent informants to infiltrate mosques and muslim student groups as well as plainclothes officers, called rakers, into the muslim community to eavesdrop on conversations at muslim owned establishments, which they considered
hotspots for radicalization.They would ask provocative questions about U.S. foreign policy in an attempt to elicit what they would consider indicators of radicalization. The intelligence gathering effort also included conducting video surveillance outside of mosques, and noting who was entering and leaving and recording their license plate numbers. The information gathered during these investigations was used to compile a database of where muslims that wore traditional Islamic clothing shopped, ate, prayed, and worked as well as documenting their conversations. The Demographics Unit went so far as to designate entire mosques as suspected terrorism enterprises, which allowed them to record sermons, conduct video surveillance outside the mosque, and record license plate numbers of people who went to the mosque. According to the NYPD, and contrary to what Trump believes, the surveillance program never led to charges that any mosque or muslim organization was a terrorist enterprise, and it never generated a lead.
The Strategy of the Demographics Unit was based on the report Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report touted the notion that homogenous muslim communities were fertile breeding grounds for radicalization and
serve as ideological sanctuaries for the seeds of radical thought.
The Demographic make-up of a country, state, city, or town plays a significant role in providing the fertile ground for the introduction and growth of the radicalization process. Enclaves of ethnic populations that are largely Muslim often serve as ideological sanctuaries for the seeds of radical thought(22).
A bit further down, we are informed that anyone who lives within an ethnic, muslim community is suspected of being a jihadist, that is to say, just for being muslim in a homogenous muslim community.
Individuals, who are attracted to radical thought, usually live, work, play, and pray within these enclaves of ethnic, Muslim, communities - communities that are dominated by Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cultures(22).
In theory this could have led them to target specific individuals who advocated violence against Americans online, but the criteria for radicalization provided in earlier pages was so vague that it could apply to just about any muslim who lived within a homogenous muslim community. This was even more true of what they considered to be
locations that are rife with extremist rhetoric, which included cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores; just about any place non-jihadists would hangout as well, except for prisons. It is no coincidence that Demographics Unity targeted certain demographics, as the name implies, for blanket surveillance.
Trump sent out the second tweet after being interviewed by a Yahoo News reporter who at one point asked Trump if he would create a muslim registry if elected. As usual, Trump was short on policy specifics and gave an ambiguous answer. The FBI already maintains a terrorist watchlist and the DHS maintains the No-Fly list. Furthermore, Americans are already under constant surveillance by multiple alphabet soup agencies (not just the NSA) so its not clear what Trump would do that’s new. Although Trump has never explicitly called for blanket surveillance that targets muslim communities, I wouldn’t put it past someone as unprincipled and egomaniacal as Trump to implement a program like the Demographics unit. He would only have to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. If there is another major terrorist attack in the U.S., like the one in San Bernardino, in the next four years, I would expect Trump to use it as leverage to implement a secret police that spies on muslim communities.