The alleged perpetrator of the massacre of 50 people in attacks on two mosques in New Zealand left a manifesto in which he stated that Donald Trump was the “symbol” of his cause, prompting the White House to go on TV to assure Americans that the president is not a white supremacist.
Trump has been less adamant in distancing himself from the white supremacist gunman, forfeiting another opportunity to lay to rest the suspicions of more than 50% of the population, according to polls.
The man police identified as the Christchurch attacker last Friday expressed admiration for Trump in hi manifesto, hailing him “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”, although not as a political leader.
"The President is not a white supremacist," acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm not sure how many times we have to say that."
He added that blaming the president in any way for the shooting "speaks to a politicization of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today."
Critics point out that the fact that the question is being asked at all also speaks to doubts many people have about the presidents' position on issues of race, fueled in part by his own comments and actions, both as Quinnipiac, 49% of voters saw Trump as racist, while 47% did not.
Mulvaney´'s clarification stands in sharp contrast to previous presidents who rarely found themselves obliged to defend themselves agaibst charges of racial bigotry.
Monday morning, the president took to Twitter to defend himself against the “ridiculous” accusations.
Police said that the 28-year-old Australian national issued a 74-page manifesto which included this self-interrogation: "Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?”.
He replied: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”
To be sure, that doesn’t make Trump complicit or an instigator of the crime, but his bland condemnation of the event when talking from the Oval Office last Friday gave some people pause. Trump lamented the massacre and expressed sympathies for the victims, while referring to the attacker as somebody with “serous issues”. But that was it. Absent was the fury he often dedicates to the culprits when an attack is performed by Islamic groups, often getting ahead of local authorities with his denunciations before details are confirmed.
On Friday, Trump talked about the necessity of vetoing the resolution in Congress against his declaration of a national emergency at the border, stating that it was needed because of the “invasion” of the country by undocumented migrants.
To have used the word “invasion” only hours after the mosque attacks was a poor choice of words, according to some observers, especially considering it was used in the New Zealand manifesto. It is also the same language used by supremacist groups in the U.S. and Europe.
When was asked if he saw the white supremacy as a mounting problem, Trump said: "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess."
Racist "toehold" in White House
That raised the specter of the radical right and its hateful speech gaining a "toehold" in the White House, according to from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups in United States.
“The atrocity in New Zealand shows us, once again, that we’re dealing with an international terrorist movement linked by a dangerous white supremacist ideology that’s metastasizing in the echo chambers of internet chat rooms and on social media networks. This hatred is even being amplified by our own president, who speaks of an “invasion of our country" wrote Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC.
The tragic events in New Zealand represent another wasted opportunity for the president. Trump spend the weekend tweeting furiously against the press (including his favored Fox News), Saturday Night Live, as well as General Motors, and even the deceased republican Senator John McCain.
Between Friday and Monday, he published 24 tweets in which he barely mentioned the New Zealand tragedy, and failed to say anything about the perpetrator.
Instead, he retweeted a message regarding a murder by members of the MS13 gang in New Jersey, which more neatly fits his agenda of laying blame on immigrants for crime rates, despite studies showing no correlation.
Trump also demanded that Fox “bring back” the Judge Jeanine Pirro show, that was taken off air temporarily after remarks she made the previous week questioning the allegiance of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MO) to the United States because she weas a hijab and abides by Islamic law.
Some observers were reminded of the notorious Charlottesville incident in August 2017, when a ‘Unite the Right’ march ended in a violent confrontation with so-called antifascist groups, and the death of a woman run over by a car driven by a neo-Nazi sympathizer. On that occasion, the president said that there were “very fine people on both sides”, making a moral equivalence between confessed racists groups and human rights defenders.
The doubts surrounding the true inclinations of Trump on the subject of race hail back to the 2016 presidential campaign when he failed to disavow the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, when the white supremacist thanked the Republican candidate for embracing his racist agenda. After an outcry, Trump did later condemn the KKK and all forms of racism as "repugnant."
Trump famously launched his campaign accusing Mexicans of being rapists, and also complained about immigrants from “shitholes countries” during a White House meeting with Senators.
Trump's political debut was at the helm of the so-called 'birther' movement, which questioned President Obama's U.S. birth certificate, claiming he was not a 'native-born' U.S. citizen.
As long as the president continues to shy away from denouncing white supremacist movements and racist terror attacks, it's unlikely the public's negative perception of his views on race will change.