The Slatest

After New Zealand Attack, Trump Again Downplays Threat of White Nationalism

President Donald Trump speaks on border security from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 15, 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks on border security from the Oval Office of the White House on Friday.
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Even the killing of 49 people isn’t enough for the president of the United States to feel it necessary to issue a full-throated condemnation of right-wing white nationalism.
Although President Donald Trump obviously condemned the attack on two New Zealand mosques, he also seemingly found it important to emphasize that he doesn’t think white nationalism is really a growing problem. “I don’t really,” Trump said when asked whether he saw an increase in the threat of white nationalism. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess, if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s a case. I don’t know enough about it yet.”

Trump did describe the attack as a “horrible, horrible thing,” but he didn’t once extend sympathetic words toward the Muslim communities that were targeted in the attack. The commander in chief didn’t just fail to reach out to Muslims around the world, he also neglected to utter a single word that hinted that he recognized how Muslims in the United States may be fearful of an attack. It was up to Trump’s daughter to reach out to Muslims and issue the kind of message one would expect from a commander in chief. “We join New Zealand and Muslim communities around the world in condemnation of this evil as we pray for the families of each victim and grieve together,” Ivanka Trump tweeted on Friday morning.

Trump’s lack of recognition that the people who died in the attack were Muslim marks a stark contrast to how he has reacted to other mass killings that targeted a specific religious group. After the attack on a Jewish temple in Pittsburgh last year, for example, Trump openly referred to it as an “anti-Semitic act.” And when 28 Coptic Christians were killed in suicide bombings in Egypt in 2017, Trump talked about the “merciless slaughter of Christians” as a trend, warning that the “bloodletting of Christians must end.”

Trump didn’t just fail to fully condemn white nationalism, he also seemed to find no problem in using some of the same language of the attacker as the world continued reeling from the attack. While defending the first veto of his presidency to make sure his national emergency declaration at the border continued standing, Trump used some incredible language. “People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” he said to justify his declaration that there is an emergency at the border. He seemed to have no qualms using that word even though that is exactly what the gunman wrote in his manifesto, claiming “we are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history.”