US President Donald Trump has come under fire, including from the Anti-Defamation League, for apparently tweeting support for a white nationalist conspiracy theory that whites in South Africa are in danger of genocide.
In a tweet posted after Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s segment on land reform in South Africa, Trump wrote that he had “asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.”
While violence against white farmers has declined in recent years, many far-right figures, including the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, believe that white South Africans are in danger of being “wiped out.” Jones compared the elected government of South Africa to Hitler during an episode of his show “InfoWars” broadcast several hours before Trump’s tweet.
The same narrative has shown up on white nationalist and neo-Nazi websites such as Richard Spencer’s AltRight.com and Stormfront.
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
In a statement, the ADL said it was “extremely disturbing that the President of the United States echoed a longstanding and false white supremacist claim that South Africa’s white farmers are targets of large-scale, racially-motivated killings by South Africa’s black majority.”
The ADL also said that white supremacists in the United States have made such claims for years.
South Africa’s also lashed out at Trump over his remarks.
The government said Trump’s tweet was based on “false information” and reflected a “narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.” It was meeting with the US Embassy as it sought to clarify Trump’s remarks.
South Africa is in the throes of a racially-charged national debate over land reform, a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white minority rule that stripped blacks of their land.
Today, nearly a quarter-century after the first democratic elections, black South Africans comprise 80 percent of the population but own just 4 percent of the country’s land, according to the government.
Though the ruling African National Congress, which has been in power since 1994, has pledged to close that gap, progress has been slow. In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his party would amend the constitution so the state could expropriate land without compensation to speed up the land reform process. Debate over the issue has grown ahead of next year’s election.
Though South Africa’s constitution has not yet been amended and the government has not seized any major agricultural land, the prospect has sent panic through some white farming communities, who worry the policy will strip them of their land, cause land prices to plummet, or make them the target of potentially violent land seizures.
For years, a small but vocal group of white South Africans have claimed white farmers are the target of violent, racially motivated farm attacks.
Experts say the attacks reflect the country’s generally high crime rate and that there is no evidence connecting them to victims’ race.
Farm murders have been declining since their peak in 2001, according to research by Agri SA, an umbrella group of South African agricultural associations. In 2016-17, there were 74 murders during farm attacks, according to Africa Check , compared to 19,000 murders across the country in the same period.
“People are not being targeted because of their race, but because they are vulnerable and isolated on the farms,” said Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice program at the Institute for Security Studies in the capital, Pretoria.
Trump’s tweet did find some supporters.
AfriForum, a group that represents some white South African interests, welcomed his comments. In May, its leaders went to the US to lobby institutions and politicians about Ramaphosa’s proposal to expropriate land and the alleged targeting of white farmers.
AfriForum and other critics say the government’s proposal to expropriate land without compensation could lead to economic disaster, pointing to the collapse of the agricultural sector in neighboring Zimbabwe after the government of former President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms, sometimes violently, in 2000.
“We are going to take back the land and we’ll do it by any means necessary,” said Lindsay Maasdorp, national spokesman for Black First Land First, a group that condones land seizures in South Africa.
Proponents of South Africa’s policy, including Ramaphosa, say it is necessary to address historic injustices and can be done in a way that is lawful and will not compromise the beleaguered economy or food security.