KNOXVILLE, Tenn. » As the hunt for the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris continue, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Monday that he is uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief because he has an "instinct" for sensing threats.
"In my book I predicted terrorism. Because I can feel it," said Trump, speaking to thousands of supporters packed into Tennessee’s Knoxville Convention Center. "I can feel it like I feel a good location."
Trump, the billionaire businessman and former reality television star, was referring to a passage in one of his books, "The America We Deserve," in which he warned of the threat posed by terrorism and referenced Osama Bin Laden as a "shadowy figure." The book was published in 2000, before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Trump has taken to trumpeting the passage to prove that, despite his lack of foreign policy experience, he is qualified to be president.
Just like his nose for scouting a good location in real estate, Trump went on to say Monday, "I really believe I have an instinct for this kind of thing."
"Nobody knew this kind of terrorism before. But I felt it. And you have to have somebody that has an instinct to lead this country," he said.
Trump and his rivals have been working to articulate how they would respond to last week’s attacks, which killed at least 129 people and left hundreds wounded. Trump has been increasingly aggressive in his rhetoric, saying last week that he would "bomb the s— out of" Islamic State-controlled oil fields to choke their financing.
He repeated that phrase Monday, sparking chants of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" from the crowd.
"They’ve got to be stopped," he said. "And they should have been stopped a long time ago. "
He also blamed President Barack Obama at least partially on the group’s rise. "When you’re weak and ineffective, bad stuff does happen," said Trump, who opposes allowing any Syrian refugees into the country — and vows to deport any Obama does.
Instead, he called for building "a big, beautiful safe zone" in Syria where refugees can wait out their brutal civil war. "Take a big swatch of land, which believe me, you get for the right price," he said.
Earlier Monday, Trump reiterated that he would consider closing U.S. mosques with radical leadership if he were elected president.
"I would hate to do it, but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider," Trump told MSNBC in a phone interview.
He also said Americans must reassess some of their civil liberties in response to growing threats from the Islamic State group.
"We have to be much tougher," he said in another interview on CNBC. "We are going to have to give up certain privileges that we’ve always had."
Surveillance, he argued, should include intelligence-gathering in and around mosques.
"You’re going to have to watch and study the mosques because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques," saidTrump, who complained that New York City, where he lives, has ramped down its efforts to infiltrate places of Muslim worship.
Trump appeared to be referring to the New York Police Department’s Demographics Unit, which The Associated Press reported in 2011 was spying on Muslims and mosques around the city with help from the CIA. The group assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed, infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques and monitored sermons.
The NYPD, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced it had abandoned the program in April of last year following lawsuits and complaints.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside Monday night’s venue chanting against Trump’s immigration policies.Trump supporters streaming out of venue chanted, "Build a wall! Build a wall!" back. Facing each other across the street beneath Knoxville’s Sunsphere, both sides broke into competing cheers of "USA! USA! USA!"
Colvin reported from Newark, New Jersey.