Donald Trump tweeted a link to Breitbart, a far-right website that peddles xenophobia and extremist ideologies, as a terrorist conducted a brutal massacre in New Zealand after releasing a manifesto that celebrated the US president as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
The tragedy, in which two mosques were seemingly the target of a terrorist attack spearheaded by an Australian 28-year-old white male, occurred on Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand — the same day Breitbart featured an interview with Mr Trump on its homepage.
The president responded to the mass shootings the following morning on Twitter in a statement that failed to describe the event as an act of terror, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had called it the night before. He also deleted his tweet to the Breitbart website the day after the attack.
“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques,” Mr Trump wrote. “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.”
He added, “God bless all!”
The Australian man behind the attacks appeared to be a right-wing extremist who described anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant motives in an 87-page manifesto that named the president and right-wing influencer Candace Owens.
He and three other suspects, including two men and one woman, have been taken into custody amid an ongoing investigation.
At least 41 people died after he opened fire in the al Noor mosque, and seven others at the Linwood mosque. The attacker live-streamed the shooting, telling viewers to subscribe to PewDiePie, a popular YouTube star who has faced numerous controversies over anti-Semitic and other hateful content.
The interview Breitbart had published this week featuring Mr Trump included thinly-veiled threats of violence from the president, who he claimed his supporters were “tougher” than his critics on the left and warned things could get “very bad” amid a potential confrontation between the two groups.
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,“ he said. “But the left plays it cuter and tougher. Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress ... with all this invest[igations] — that’s all they want to do is — you know, they do things that are nasty. Republicans never played this.”
Critics of the president have decried both the interview and his response to the tragedy.
Trump could have not responded; responded gracefully; or linked to any other website about the NZ terror attack. He chose Breitbart.
Breitbart has published vile anti-Muslim hatred, mocking Islamophobia, calling Muslims "rapefugees," and vilifying most Muslims as terrorists. pic.twitter.com/yM7VyCt76t— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas)March 15, 2019
“It's pretty easy to not be political and say the following,” Joe Walsh, a conservative radio host and former congressman, wrote on Twitter, adding, “The white supremacist, anti-Muslim hate that attacked two Mosques in New Zealand is evil and must be universally condemned.”
“All hate is bad and must always be condemned,” he added. “We pray for our Muslim brothers & sisters.”
“Trump could have not responded; responded gracefully; or linked to any other website about the NZ terror attack. He chose Breitbart,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist at University College London, wrote. “Breitbart has published vile anti-Muslim hatred, mocking Islamophobia, calling Muslims ‘rapefugees,’ and vilifying most Muslims as terrorists.”