President Donald Trump has issued a response to Friday’s shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where at least 49 people have been killed.
In a tweet, Trump posted:
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
The White House also issued a statement:
The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate.
The president’s responses quickly came under criticism for what they left out. Although Trump’s response did mention “mosques,” he didn’t specifically mention Islamophobia — unlike Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who tweeted, “We don’t back down in the face of Islamophobia and racism at home or abroad”— or name “Muslims” specifically as the victims. In a tweet, former President Barack Obama assured “the people of New Zealand” that “we grieve with you and the Muslim community.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been highly critical of Trump following the Christchurch attacks—which, according to New Zealand authorities, were motivated by both white supremacist views and anti-Islam views.
At a Friday press conference, CAIR’s founder and executive director, Nihad Awad, asserted that Trump’s rhetoric had encouraged anti-Islam bigotry. Trump, Awad told journalists, has been “able to normalize Islamophobia and give legitimacy to those who fear Muslims and fear immigrants.”
Awad called for Trump to condemn the New Zealand shooting as a “white supremacist attack,” and the CAIR founder told reporters, “It is no secret that Mr. Trump has campaigned on white supremacist ideology, on division and fear. He campaigned against immigrants, against Mexicans, against African-Americans, against women, against Muslims. Muslims have received the lion’s share of his attacks.”
Awad went on to say that if Trump “would like to be the leader of the free world, he has to change his policies—and he has to reset the tone by committing himself to unity, equality.”
In the Nation, John Nichols described Trump’s response to the Christchurch massacre as “muffled” and complained that it should have been more forceful. Nichols wrote, “On one of the darkest days in history for Muslims worldwide, the president’s initial response to the New Zealand killings failed to mention Muslims, Islam, Islamophobia, white supremacy, racism, bigotry or violent hatred that targets people based on their religion.”
One of the most vehement responses to the attack came from the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt, who asserted during a Friday interview with NPR that it “clearly was motivated by white supremacy.”
Greenblatt told NPR, “We’ve got a big problem on our hands, and we need to recognize that social media allows white supremacy, much like other forms of hate, to travel across borders. And we’ve got to recognize it for the global terror threat that it really is.”
Another word missing from Trump’s response was “terrorist.” In contrast, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s response specifically mentioned “white supremacist terrorists.”
Clinton was quite forceful in her response as well, tweeting:
My heart breaks for New Zealand & the global Muslim community. We must continue to fight the perpetuation and normalization of Islamophobia and racism in all its forms.
White supremacist terrorists must be condemned by leaders everywhere. Their murderous hatred must be stopped.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 15, 2019
Leaders in Europe, meanwhile, have been quick to describe the shooting as terrorism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her solidarity with New Zealand Muslims “who were attacked and murdered out of racist hatred” and asserted, “We stand together against such acts of terrorism.” And French President Emmanuel Macron declared, “France stands against all forms of extremism and acts with its partners against terrorism in the world.”