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Fact check: Donald Trump offered $6M to stop mosque near Ground Zero

Camille Caldera USA TODAY

Published 7:46 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020

The claim: While former Vice President Joe Biden supported constructing a mosque at Ground Zero, President Donald Trump offered $6 million to stop it

On the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a decade-old controversy about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” resurfaced on social media.

One viral post tied the issue to the current contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

“BIDEN supported building a mosque at Ground Zero. TRUMP offered 6M to keep it from being built,” the post reads. “Never forget.”

The user behind the post did not respond to a request from USA TODAY for comment.

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Behind the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ controversy

In reality, there was never a plan to build a mosque at or on Ground Zero.

There were plans for a 13-story cultural center that included a mosque — along with a swimming pool, gym, basketball court, a 500-seat auditorium, restaurant, culinary school, library and art studios — two blocks away from the site.

Two long blocks, or as NBC New York put it, the equivalent of “roughly half a dozen normal lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower, the nearer of the two destroyed in the attacks.”

The distance was such that Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the project, said “there won’t be any views of the Ground Zero memorial from the building,” according to PolitiFact.

The $100 million center was intended to be open to New Yorkers of all faiths, though it would be geared toward “engaging New York’s many and diverse Muslim communities and promoting empowerment and compassion for all.”

In that spirit, the mosque was to be operated independently of the rest of the facility. 

Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who was slated to lead the mosque, told Newsweek that they hoped to “provide a counter momentum against extremism” at the symbolic location.

“We want peace, and we want it where it matters most. This is where it matters most,” Khan said.

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Trump offered $6 million for one investor’s share of the site

It’s true that Trump made a bid to stop the construction of the mosque at the site.

On Sept. 9, 2010, Trump wrote a letter to Hisham Elzanaty and offered to purchase his $4.8 million stake in the project for $6 million — around 25% more — per The Wall Street Journal.

Trump also specified that any agreement would require that a mosque be built at least five blocks from the former World Trade Center.

“I am making this offer as a resident of New York and citizen of the United States, not because I think the location is a spectacular one (because it is not) but because it will end a very serious, inflammatory, and highly divisive situation that is destined, in my opinion, to only get worse,” Trump reportedly wrote in a letter to Elzanaty at the time, according to the Journal.

Wolodymyr Starosolsky, an attorney for Elzanaty, said that the letter “looks like it was written by a publicist rather than by a serious business man,” the Journal also reported.

“It suggests to me that Mr. Trump sees this as an opportunity to reclaim some of the limelight and luster that he has been losing,” Starosolsky said. 

In response, a publicist for Trump reportedly said the offer was “a very serious one.”

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Biden never commented on it, though Obama voiced support for the mosque

There are no records of commentary on the project from Biden, who was vice president at the time of the controversy.

However, on Aug. 13, 2010, then-President Barack Obama defended the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero at a White House dinner for Ramadan, per Politico.

“Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” Obama said. “But let me be clear: As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

After all of the controversy, El-Gamal abandoned the plan and instead decided to build a condominium tower and smaller three-story museum dedicated to Islam, per The New York Times.

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Our rating: Partly false

Based on our research, the claim that Joe Biden supported constructing a mosque at Ground Zero while Donald Trump offered $6 million to stop its construction is PARTLY FALSE. The plans were for a mosque and cultural center two blocks away from Ground Zero. And although it’s not true that Biden voiced his support for the project, it is true that Trump offered one of the investors $6 million for his share of the site.

Our fact-check sources:

  • NBC New York, Aug. 19, 2010, FACT CHECK: Islam Already Lives Near Ground Zero
  • PolitiFact, Aug. 20, 2010, Fact-checking the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ debate
  • Newsweek, Aug. 8, 2010, War Over Ground Zero
  • The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2010, Trump Offers to Buy Out Islamic Center Investor
  • Politico, Aug. 13, 2010, Obama defends ground zero mosque
  • The New York Times, May 12, 2017, Condo Tower to Rise Where Muslim Community Center Was Proposed

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

Published 7:46 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020

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