Last week a gunman opened fire on two New Zealand mosques killing 50 people. Although this is an obvious tragedy, one would not immediately assume that this event would have any geopolitical consequences for a world leader across the dateline. However, President Trump is on the defensive because once again he has been cited as inspiration by a race-based zealot.
The suspect in the shooting, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, wrote a 74-page manifesto in which he said he supported President Trump “As a ‘symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” but not as a “policy maker”.
It didn’t take long for members of the opposition party to reference the quote and renew their calls for Trump to tone down his rhetoric which many have claimed to incite Islamophobia and xenophobia.
But the issue for Trump isn’t that this particular gunman felt the need to bring him up in his manifesto. It’s the fact that people who share the gunman’s beliefs KEEP bringing him up.
- In 2015 two people beat a homeless Hispanic man and according to police said “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,”. (Note: This was actually before Trump took office)
- Former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke cited Donald Trump as an inspiration for the uptick of white supremacist activity at the infamous Unite the Right rally: “We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
And these are just the examples where the white identity extremists have confirmed on their own that Trump was their motivation. There are more where Trump’s rhetoric appears or is implied to be the motivation.
In the aftermath of the Jussie Smollet incident, people have been more skeptical of Trump inspired hate crimes allegations but Trump still responded to this latest claim as he usually does, in a tweet:
“The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!”
Although the key part of his tweet is technically true, it is a disingenuous and deceptive categorization of the criticism levied against him. Nobody is alleging that Trump is directly behind this or any other attack, or even that he somehow orchestrated it and you certainly wouldn’t be able to prove it. What Trump is being accused of, is creating an atmosphere of increased racial and ethnic hostility via divisive rhetoric.
Many conservatives will take issue with laying the blame at Trump’s feet claiming that you can’t blame attacks and racial hostility on Trump simply for saying a few politically incorrect statements. However, it’s worth noting that conservatives have had no problem connecting speech to actions in the past. Conservatives blamed #BlackLivesMatter for dozens of attacks on officers and in most of those cases, you didn’t have anything really connecting them or assailants admitting they were inspired by the group even according to the police investigators themselves.
President Trump is likely not going to tone down his rhetoric. It’s not in his character and his base in some ways has come to expect it. But his effect on some of the more undesirable elements the far right is worth a conversation and that conversation should probably be had before the next tragedy happens.