On Friday, 49 people were killed in a terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — the country’s worst mass killing since 1943. A suspect charged in the attack was reportedly an anti-Muslim zealot.
As news of the attack was unfolding, President Trump tweeted a link to Breitbart — a far-right “news” site. Breitbart has published vile anti-Muslim hatred, including calling Muslims “rapefugees,” mocking the notion of Islamophobia, and absurdly claiming that terrorist attacks are “an expression of mainstream Muslim values.” It’s a site where Muslim-hating white supremacists — like at least one of those who allegedly carried out the attack in Christchurch — would find writers who gave them rhetorical ammunition for their ideologies of hate. (Trump has since deleted the tweet.)
Trump is an Islamophobic bigot. As president, his words matter. He is using them to spread hatred. And deranged, unwell or evil people have allegedly been inspired by those words to target the very people that Trump targets in his speeches and his tweets. The charged suspect in New Zealand cited Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” (though he also said he rejected Trump as a policymaker and leader).
Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry has a long history. In 2011 and 2012, Trump insinuated that President Barack Obama was secretly Muslim. In September 2015, at a campaign rally, Trump nodded along as a supporter claimed “we have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims.” Trump continued nodding, saying “right,” and “we need this question!” as the supporter then proceeded to ask Trump “when can we get rid of them [Muslims]?” In response, Trump said: “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things.”
In November 2015, on “Morning Joe,” Trump said that America needs to “watch and study the mosques.” Four days later, he indicated that he would “certainly implement” a database to track Muslims in the United States. Two days after that, he falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Then came the most egregious statement — one that should haunt Trump’s legacy forever and taint everyone who supported him subsequently: On Dec. 7, 2015, he called to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Three days later, Trump tweeted that the United Kingdom is “trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem.” On March 9, 2016, Trump falsely claimed that “Islam hates us.”
Upon taking office, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim bigots. Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser, was fired by the FBI for his Islamophobia. Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced national-security-adviser-turned-felon, said that Islam “is like a cancer.” And top officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have also stoked hatred of Islam.
In late November 2017, Trump retweeted three videos by Jayda Fransen. She was one of the leaders of Britain First, a neo-fascist hate group. She has been convicted of multiple hate-crime offenses and was involved in organizing “Christian patrols,” which included what Britain First called “mosque invasions” aimed at intimidating British Muslims. While Fransen was out on bail, she appeared on Radio Aryan, a neo-Nazi radio station. Her interview began right after the station concluded its reading from “Mein Kampf.” That is who the president of the United States chose to amplify to his millions and millions of Twitter followers.
The list of Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry goes on and on. But just imagine replacing the word “Muslim” with “Jewish” or “black” in any of statements above. It immediately becomes clear that there is a grotesque double standard when it comes to the mainstream acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry without consequence in the United States and the broader Western world. We must never reduce our vigilance toward the dangerous scourges of anti-Semitism and racism, but we must hold anti-Muslim bigots to the same standard that we would hold other bigots.
Last week, a prominent Fox News host and Trump ally, Judge Jeanine Pirro, suggested that wearing a Muslim hijab could be incompatible with believing in the U.S. Constitution. After her remarks sparked outrage, Pirro went on broadcasting as usual, only eliciting a toothless statement from Fox News. It’s clear that in media and in politics alike, vilifying Muslims is not unsavory enough to actually elicit consequences.
Some of the president’s supporters might accuse me of “politicizing tragedy,” but that is the only appropriate thing to do when tragedies are made more likely because of our politics. Hollow statements of condolence are meaningless if you are willing to turn around and support an Islamophobic bigot in the White House who makes those condolences more necessary.
The attack on New Zealand is an attack on religious freedom and an attack on that hallowed principle that worshiping the God of your choice should not make you a target of violence.
But if we want to stop such massacres, we need to work much harder to stamp out hate and bigotry in society — and part of that is to stop electing or supporting hateful bigots.