US President Donald Trump condemned the New Zealand massacre of 50 people by a self-declared white fascist as “horrible”. In an ambiguous choice of words, Trump said he sent his “warmest [sic] sympathies” to the victims of the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch. He also seemed to downplay white supremacy violence as a problem.
With several surviving victims still in a critical condition, the death toll could rise in coming days.
Of course, Trump would be obliged to join in the international outpouring of condemnation over the barbaric cold-blooded act of mass murder. How could he not, given the shocking horror and depravity of the crime?
But his repeated nationalistic and nativist rhetoric as well as the ideologues whom he associates with make it very hard for Trump and his supporters to deny that there is a link between the White House occupant and the terrorist attack on Muslims in New Zealand, or white supremacist violence generally.
Supporters of Trump have scoffed at media claims made against Trump following the massacre insinuating the president is associated with “white nationalism” and thereby linked to the violence.
Admittedly, anti-Trump media in the US, such as CNN and MSNBC, will always seek every opportunity to undermine Trump. Nevertheless, on the point of Trump’s dalliance with extremist rightwing groups and their ideological memes there is a valid criticism to be made.
The alleged shooter in the New Zealand attack Friday was named as Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian citizen. He openly declared himself to be a fascist, avowing white supremacist ideology. In a so-called manifesto, the suspect refers to Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity”.
More significantly, the themes the alleged murderer espouses are central to the Alt Right movement and numerous other white nationalist groups in the US and Europe, issues which Trump has also promoted for political gain.
The themes of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, white genocide by “invasion” or “replacement” by brown-skinned foreigners are run-of-the-mill talking points for far-right nationalist movements, which Trump has at times endorsed or given credence to.
Only days before the New Zealand massacre, Trump gave an exclusive interview with Breitbart News. The publication is a proponent of many of the themes surrounding fears of the “white race” being over-run by hordes of foreigners, and especially Muslim foreigners.
In his latest interview for Breitbart, Trump appeared to be inciting street violence by imploring his followers in the police and military to “get tough”. He tweeted a link to the publication. But following the horror in Christchurch, Trump deleted his tweet. That move suggests the president is fully aware of the toxic association with Breitbart at such a politically sensitive moment.
Trump and his supporters may try to play the innocent card, decrying what they would call are scurrilous attempt by the “liberal media” to bracket him with the violence of the far-right.
However, what else is one to conclude about Trump when he has personally amplified the touchstone causes of numerous fascist, white nationalist groups?
This week, Trump has pushed on with his border wall project. He has repeatedly sought to justify that project in sensationalist, scaremongering terms of preventing an “invasion” into the US from Mexico. The actual figures of migration over the southern border do not merit such high priority given by Trump to the “problem”. The proposed expenditure of $8-9 billion and declared state of emergency are “dog-whistling” techniques by Trump to mobilize far-right nationalist support.
Look at the people who associate with Trump. He may claim that their association is not reciprocated.
White neo-Nazi groups like Proud Boys and Alt Right have been hosted at Trump rallies. Alt Right leader Richard Spencer is partial to giving Nazi salutes at conferences and declaring “Hail Trump!”
David Duke, the grandmaster of the Klu Klux Klan, has publicly endorsed Trump.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former political strategist in the White House, is a big proponent of the “replacement theory” whereby it is claimed that Muslim, African and other immigrants are “invading” the US and Europe to obliterate traditional white Christian communities. This was a prime motive for the alleged shooter in the New Zealand massacre. It was also a motive for the mass murder in 2011 by Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik.
Trump has taken up the cause of white South African farmers who claim that they are being expelled from colonial lands by the ruling ANC black government. This theme has also been taken up in Zimbabwe, and is a major touchstone issue for white supremacist, fascist groups around the world. For Trump to dally with the issue is an unmistakable sign of his witting – albeit tacit – support to such ideology, even though he may publicly try to distance himself at times, such as in the aftermath of the Christchurch atrocity.
Typically with Trump there are abundant contradictions. His son-in-law and special advisor Jared Kushner is Jewish. Yet Trump was accused of giving support to a “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where the torch-bearing marchers chanted slogans about not being replaced by Jews.
There seems little room for denial by Trump or his supporters about his links to the rise of extreme rightwing, white nationalist, fascist groups. His blanket ban on asylum-seekers from Muslim countries, his unhinged rhetoric about “invasion” by foreigners, and Trump’s association with racist, fascistic ideologues all put this president in the dock for incitement. The reckless rhetoric of Trump’s demagoguery is manifest in depraved actions such as the mass murder of 49 Muslims in New Zealand.
Trump can’t wash his hands after cynically dabbling in the cesspool of fascist ideology.