People gather for a vigil in support of the victims of the Christchurch mosque killings in Auckland on Saturday. Associated Press
NEW YORK: President Donald Trump played down any threat posed by racist white nationalism after the gunman accused of the New Zealand mosque massacre called the president “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
Trump, whose own previous responses to the movement have drawn scrutiny, expressed sympathy for the victims who died at “places of worship turned into scenes of evil killing.” But he declined to join expressions of mounting concern about white nationalism, when asked whether he thought it was a rising threat around the world, he responded, “I don’t really.”
“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” Trump said. “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.”
Trump was asked about white nationalism and the shooting deaths of 49 people at mosques in Christchurch after he formally vetoed Congress’ resolution to block his declaration of a national emergency at the Mexico border. His veto, aimed at freeing money to build more miles of a border wall against illegal immigration, is expected to survive any congressional effort to overturn it.
Questioned about the accused gunman’s reference to him, Trump professed ignorance.
“I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it,” he said. “But I think it’s a horrible event ... a horrible, disgraceful thing and a horrible act.”
The man accused of the shootings, whose name was not immediately released, left behind a lengthy document that outlined his motivations. He proudly stated that he was a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hates immigrants and was set off by attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. In a single reference, he mentioned the US president.
“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 embraced Nazi imagery and voiced support for fascism, nonetheless cast an uncomfortable light on the way that the president has been embraced by some on the far right. Trump, who as a candidate proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, has drawn criticism as being slow to condemn white supremacy and related violence.