The president of the United States gives both permission and encouragement for public’s behavior, values and norms. This is true both in the United States and around the world. He or she is that powerful.
Earlier on Friday, a 28-year-old white man who appears to have described himself as “an actual fascist” entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, armed with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people, injuring many 20 others. New Zealand authorities also report that the attacker had placed two explosive devices on his vehicle, which apparently did not detonate.
In an especially gruesome contemporary twist, the gunman apparently streamed parts of the terror attack live on Facebook. Although that feed and other accounts apparently associated with the shooter have been taken down, the New York Times reports that both the 17-minute video and a manifesto apparently posted by the shooter have been widely disseminated on social media.
Three men and one woman have been taken into custody by New Zealand law enforcement, who have since said that one of those people is likely not involved. At this writing, reports suggest that the 28-year-old man, who by his own account was born and raised in Australia, may have been the sole shooter.
That man appears to have posted his hate-filled manifesto online before the attack. In it, he rages against “Islamic invaders” who are “occupying European soil,” and specifically writes that he used guns to commit this massacre in order to call attention to debate about the Second Amendment in the United States. The alleged mass murderer also wrote that he had donated money to American white supremacist organizations, and quoted the “14 words” pledge often used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
According to various reports, the alleged terrorist specifically cited President Trump as an inspiration. His online manifesto praises Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Friday’s massacre appears to be another example of what is known as “stochastic terrorism” or “scripted violence.” It is also another case study in how right-wing terrorists, with no official group affiliation, can be radicalized online
A person is judged by the company they keep. A person is also judged by the quality of those people who claim him or her as their compatriots, role models, guides or heroes.
As has been repeatedly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, Donald Trump is considered a hero by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The official Ku Klux Klan newspaper endorsed Trump for president in 2016.
There has been a surge in hate crimes, including violent crimes against Jews, Muslims and immigrants of various backgrounds, since Trump launched his presidential campaign nearly four years ago.
Trump’s closest advisers have included people with apparent sympathy for white nationalism and the “alt-right,” including current White House adviser Stephen Miller and former White House strategist and campaign chair Steve Bannon, along with former advisers Michael Anton and Sebastian Gorka. Other lower-level officials in the Trump administration appear to share similar racist views.
There have been many documented examples of assaults and other forms of violence by Donald Trump supporters, in some cases wearing MAGA hats and other regalia, shouting his slogans or claiming to act in his name. These hateful actions have included the so-called MAGA bomber, the man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and the neo-Nazi mass murderer who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
As shown by Friday’s massacre in New Zealand, Trump-inspired violence is not limited to the United States. A Canadian right-wing terrorist was moved by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric to kill six Muslims at a Quebec mosque in 2017.
Ultimately, there are so many examples of Donald Trump’s racism and bigotry that to list them all would be a near-endless task. Trump has suggested that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, included “very fine people.” He sought to ban Muslims from entering the United States and pursued a policy of separating black and brown children from their families and placing them in concentration camps. He has suggested that Latino immigrants are a natural criminal class who come to America with the express goal of raping and killing white people.
Trump has described predominantly black nations such as Haiti and Nigeria as “shitholes.” He basically abandoned the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, implying that they were lazy and did not deserve humanitarian aid. At least 5,000 people died.
Trump has shared neo-Nazi talking points and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. He has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and has said that African-American athletes who exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of protest are traitors who should be kicked out of the United States.
Trump was and remains one of the leading voices for the “birther” conspiracy theory alleging that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and may be a secret Muslim. The Trump administration is working to remove any language in UN documents that condemns racism, xenophobia, bigotry or nationalism.
Likely at the direction of Stephen Miller (who himself is Jewish), the Trump administration omitted any mention of the genocidal violence suffered by the Jewish people under the Nazi regime from the 2017 annual Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.
More generally, Trump’s administration has launched a wide-ranging initiative to change immigration laws to ensure that the United States remains a majority white country.
Some would like to look away from this list. Others will find it tedious and complain that they have have seen this all before. Some will mutter that we all know that Trump is a racist, and so what? And yes, too many other people who will see such a list and feel validation. Numbness to this kind of horror is one of the main ways through which evil is normalized.
Early on Monday morning, Donald Trump issued the obligatory public statement condemning the Christchurch massacre, apparently committed by a self-identified fascist who claimed him as an inspiration. The president wrote, “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques.”
As usual at such moments, there is something deeply awkward and strained about Trump’s pronouncement. It might almost be comical if the circumstances were not deeply tragic. We all understand the reason for that awkwardness. Trump’s policies, statements and worldview does not value the lives of Muslims — or nonwhite people more generally–as equal to those of white Americans.
Trump’s words of condolence stink of rancid hypocrisy, which is nothing new. On this terrible day for the world, the smell is worse than ever.