The mass shooting of Muslim worshipers allegedly by a white supremacist in New Zealand has underscored the deep partisan divide over President Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and whether his words serve as incitement for extremist violence.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said it was “absurd” to draw a connection between Trump’s many statements about immigration and the admitted shooter’s own words on the subject, spelled out in a lengthy manifesto that referred to immigrants as “invaders within our lands” and called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney said, “I don’t think it’s fair to cast this person as a supporter of Donald Trump any more than it is to look at his eco-terrorist passages in that manifesto and align him with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi or [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez.”
The suspect, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, described himself as an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist” in his lengthy, discursive statement, but he rooted that in his nationalist philosophy, accusing politicians on the left of “presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization.”
Mulvaney said, “There are folks who just don’t like the president, and everything that goes wrong they’re going to look for a way to tie that to the president.”
“The president is not a white supremacist,” he added later, responding to critics who accused Trump of echoing the admitted gunman’s rhetoric in comments from the Oval Office hours after the massacre.
Announcing his veto of a congressional resolution that would block his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S. border with Mexico, Trump called the movement of undocumented immigrants into the United States an “invasion.”
“Last month, more than 76,000 illegal migrants arrived at our border,” he said. “We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders. People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is.”
Mulvaney also sought to distance Trump from Tarrant, noting that while the avowed white supremacist called Trump an inspiring figure, he also wrote that he didn’t view him as an effective “policy maker and leader.”
“Dear god no,” Tarrant wrote.
Scott Brown, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, dismissed Tarrant’s manifesto and encouraged people not to read it. “I don’t give any credibility whatsoever to the ramblings of somebody who is rotten to the core and, clearly, is an extremist of the worst kind, who could walk into two mosques and, without any care whatsoever, kill people,” Brown said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
On Friday, Trump said that he does not believe white nationalism is a growing global danger and that the suspect belongs to “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
Former White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert defended Trump’s statement, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that there’s no comparison between white nationalism and the Islamic State terrorist group, “which was a much larger, more organized threat to which we dedicated trillions of dollars in a global effort to reduce the outcome of violence.”
“But they’re also both morally repugnant and difficult challenges, and so we don’t want to downplay it,” Bossert said. “So I think what the president said is, it’s a smaller threat. I hope he doesn’t maintain the position that it’s not a threat at all.”
Others on Sunday denounced Trump’s response to the attack.
On “State of the Union,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of three Muslim lawmakers serving in the House, urged Trump to deliver a message of support to the Muslim community in the wake of the New Zealand attack.
Trump “is the most powerful man in the world right now,” Tlaib said, urging him to speak out about domestic terrorism to the same degree that he has about foreign terrorism. “The fact that we continue to stay silent is what’s going to make us as a country less safe.”
She also disputed Trump’s claim that white nationalism is not on the rise.
“I think he needs to pick up the phone and call the Department of Justice. . . . He cannot just say it’s a small group of people. There’s too many deaths,” Tlaib said, pointing to recent attacks on worshipers at synagogues, black churches and mosques. “He needs to do better by us in the country.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate, also urged Trump to take a stronger stand against anti-Muslim bigotry.
“At the very least, he should be giving strong statements, public speeches defending Muslims in this world,” Klobuchar said on “State of the Union.” “I think it’s on all of us to condemn this hate.”
Trump on Sunday appeared to take the opposite approach, however. In morning tweets, he issued a defiant defense of Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro, whose on-air remarks last week about a Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), sparked broad criticism and prompted a condemnation from the network itself.
Pirro had opened her show on March 9 criticizing Omar for what she called “anti-Israel sentiment” and questioning whether it was rooted in Omar’s Islamic beliefs.
“Omar wears a hijab, which, according to the Koran 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t get molested,” Pirro said on her show. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Trump said Sunday that Fox should “bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro.”
“The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country,” Trump said in a tweet. “They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well.”
In a second tweet, he added that the network should “fight back with vigor” against those who have criticized her remarks.
“Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country,” Trump said. “The losers all want what you have, don’t give it to them. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die!”
Lindsey Bever contributed to this report.