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Trump downplays white nationalism threat after New Zealand massacre

Trump expressed his "warmest sympathy and best wishes" for New Zealanders on Twitter [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 16 March, 2019

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The shooter behind the New Zealand mosque attacks, that killed 49 people and injured almost 50, described US President Trump as 'a symbol of renewed white identity'.

US President Donald Trump denied on Saturday that white nationalism was a rising threat around the world, just hours after a racist and Islamophobic massacre at two New Zealand mosques by a man who praised the right-wing leader.

A 28-year-old Australian man entered two mosques in Christchurch, livestreaming the killings on Facebook as worshippers were shot at point-blank range. The killings left at least 49 Muslims dead and injuring almost 50 in the attack. 

The gunmen left behind a long hate manifesto detailing his anti-immigration white supremacist ideology, in which he described President Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity".

Trump expressed sympathy along with most international leaders for the victims who died at "places of worship turned into scenes of evil killing", but declined to join expressions of mounting concern about white nationalism. 

"I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess," Trump said Friday in remarks after issuing his first veto. "If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case. I don't know enough about it yet. But it's certainly a terrible thing."

When asked about the accused gunman's reference to him, Trump said he hadn't seen it. 

"But I think it's a horrible event... a horrible, disgraceful thing and a horrible act."

In his manifesto, the accused shooter proudly stated he was a white nationalist who hates immigrants and that his attack was is response to attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. He mentioned the US president in a single reference.

"Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?" was one of the questions he posed to himself. His answer: "As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no."

The White House immediately denounced the connection. But the mention from the suspect, who had drawn Nazi imagery in white on his black semi-automatic weapons, showcases how the US president has been embraced by some on the far-right.

Trump, who is behind the Muslim ban in the US, has drawn criticism for being slow to condemn right wing extremism. 

After a 2017 clash between white nationalists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one demonstrator dead, Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides".

Read also: We told you the threat is white supremacy. You ignored us.

He also did not immediately reject the support of David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard, during his presidential campaign.

Ali Latif in his article for The New Arab, entitled "Name the white supremacist killers of Muslims", wrote "it is no coincidence that anti-Muslim hate crimes have surged since Trump began his presidential bid in 2015". He quoted a report that showed "Trump's tweets on Islam-related topics are highly correlated with anti-Muslim hate crime".

Trump telephoned New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, offering condolences, prayers and any help the US might be able to provide. She told reporters she answered, "My message was: to offer sympathy and love to all Muslim communities".

Many experts who track violent extremists have identified white nationalism as a growing threat. In January, for example, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League said domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the US in 2018, up from 37 in 2017. "White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case," the report said.

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