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U.S. President Donald Trump said he thinks that white nationalism is “not really” a growing threat on Friday following attacks on two mosques in New Zealand that left 49 people dead.
Trump was asked by a reporter if he saw a rise in white nationalism and responded “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people.”
His remarks come after shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 49 people dead and 42 injured on Friday afternoon local time.
A 28-year-old Australian man is now in custody and has been charged with murder. He will appear in court Saturday morning.
The man released a manifesto on social media, which was presented as a Q&A, in which he described himself as an ethno-nationalist and fascist, and that he viewed Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity.”
“Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?” the document says. “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”
The 74-page document railed against Muslims and espoused far-right and anti-immigration ideology. It also contained conspiracy theories about “white genocide” and references a conflict between people of European descent and Muslims. He often references the Crusades, a common theme among far-right extremists.
He also said he was inspired by other right-wing extremists, such as Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. in 2015, and Anders Breivik, a Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people.
Trump said on Friday he has not seen the manifesto.
A Twitter account with the handle @brentontarrant, the name the attack was broadcast under on social media, posted a now-deleted photo of weapons and equipment with names of past extremists and mass shooters written in white. The name of Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six people in an attack on a Quebec City mosque in 2017, was among them.
Ammunition is seen in this undated photo posted on Twitter on March 12, 2019 by the apparent gunman who attacked a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Trump gave a statement of support to New Zealand Friday afternoon in a tweet, saying that he had “just spoke” with New Zealand prime minister Jacnida Ardern and he informed the prime minister that the U.S. stands “in solidarity with New Zealand” and offered assistance to the country.
The White House has called the act a “vicious act of hate” in a statement Friday morning, but did not specifically say it was at a mosque or that Muslims were killed.
“The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the shooter was “wrong” to call Trump a symbol of “white identity.”
“He’s wrong. The shooter is an evil, hateful person. He’s wrong about that,” she said at the White House.
Two others are in custody and another person, arrested earlier Friday, was not related to the shootings, police said.
Forty-one were killed at Al Noor Mosque on Deans Road and seven more were fatally shot at another mosque in Linwood, a suburb of Christchurch. One person died in hospital.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called on Trump to call shootings “white supremacist terrorist attacks.”
“You should condemn this, not only as a hate crime but as a white supremacist terrorist attack,” Nihad Award, executive director of CAIR, told reporters in Washington Friday. “During [Trump’s] presidency and during [his] election campaign, Islamaphobia took a sharp rise, and attacks on innocent immigrants and mosques have skyrocketed.”
-With files from Andrew Russell
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