Why Did Trump Keep Talking About 'Coyotes' During the Debate?

"These children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they used to use them to get into our country," President Donald Trump said during Thursday night's debate with Joe Biden. This came in response to a question from moderator Kristen Welker about the more than 500 children whose parents still cannot be found after their families were separated at the U.S. border. Trump's remarks had social media wondering if the president was saying that children were being brought into the country by actual coyotes—as in the raggedy-looking, predatory canines.

The short answer: He wasn't.

coyote joggers Marines Camp Lejeune North Carolina
A North American coyote--not a human child smuggler. Harry Collins/Getty

"Coyote" is actually a common term used for human smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's a clip from the debate when Trump mentioned the "coyotes."

Among the people who apparently thought Trump believes that it's animals sneaking children illegally into the U.S.? Minority Caucus Chief Deputy Whip of the Georgia House of Representatives, Dar'shun Kendrick.

To give some ammo to their arguments, a lot of Trump's followers retweeted one user's informal (and brief) attempt at tracking some of the "coyote" mentions online.

The president's son posted an article from The Federalist explaining the term's meaning in this context; the same piece was shared by many other Trump supporters on Twitter.

Dana Loesch, a former spokesperson for the NRA, is no stranger to inflammatory rhetoric. She certainly didn't shy away from saying she was "absolutely amazed at the stupidity" of people who didn't know "coyotes" was a term for smugglers.

Actor and fervent Trump supporter James Woods also took the opportunity to insult the intelligence of those not familiar with the use of the word.

Even some of the people who knew what the term referred to still found its usage offensive, such as activist David Hogg:

Controversial TV host Bill Maher had a little fun with the word choice, too.

Some photos were shared around by many people on Twitter from both sides of the political spectrum, featuring photoshopped children riding on coyotes or coyotes carrying babies in a blanket.

This isn't the first time that Trump has used the word "coyotes" while referring to smugglers when talking about border security. He's referenced the term several times on Twitter before, including a few from more than a year ago.