Less than a month after assuming office, President Donald Trump sparked one of his first “international incidents” when he falsely asserted that immigrants had just committed a terrorist attack in Sweden.

“What has he been smoking?” former conservative Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted, in reference to the new American president.

Trump later explained through Twitter that he had merely passed on what he’d heard on Fox News. Whether he was aware of it or not, that Fox story was part of an international fearmongering campaign to upset the political balance of power in a country known for egalitarianism and tolerance.

With elections coming up on September 9, Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic party has been trying hard to focus national attention on their core issue: inequality. Their web site’s top headline: “Do you also want a stronger society with better welfare and more jobs instead of big tax cuts for the richest? Vote for Social Democrats!”

But a hardline anti-immigrant party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats, are surging in popularity. Polls suggest the Sweden Democrats will garner about 20 percent of votes, up from less than 13 percent in the last election in 2014. The Social Democrats, the country’s most popular party for the past century, are expected to have their worst showing ever — about 25 percent, down from 31 percent four years ago.

All the mainstream parties have vowed not to ally with the Sweden Democrats to gain a majority. And so the country is expected to continue to have a minority coalition government — most likely either a continuation of the Red-Greens (the Social Democrats and the Green Party, with support from the Left Party) or one made up of four traditional conservative parties.

Whatever the election outcome, the rise of anti-immigrant forces is rattling for many Swedes who’ve prided themselves on a reputation of generosity and economic fairness. In 2015 alone, Sweden took in 163,000 asylum seekers, most of them from the war-torn countries of Syria and Afghanistan. If the United States, which is actually engaged in these wars, had taken in the same share of its much larger population, it would’ve been the equivalent of 5.2 million people. Instead, the United States accepted just 69,933 refugees that year.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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