WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said Friday he does not think the massacre of at least 49 people in New Zealand mosques shows that white nationalism is a growing problem in the world.
“I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
The attacks on the two Christchurch mosques left at least 49 people dead. The gunman –- identified as Australian white nationalist Brenton Tarrant — apparently livestreamed the assault and published a manifesto online.
The alleged killer appeared to have posted a lengthy manifesto earlier in which he claimed that white people were being overwhelmed and displaced by foreign cultures.
In the document, filled with racist conspiracy theories, he referred to Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Asked if he’d seen the manifesto, Trump said: “I did not see it.”
Trump has faced condemnation before for downplaying the threat of white supremacists.
He originally condemned the 2017 Charlottesville rally after neo-Nazis, Klansman, and other racists descended on the town, which resulted in one woman’s death after a Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a crowd of people. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, was struck and killed.
But in a follow-up press conference days later, Trump held both sides responsible for the violence and equivocated the white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” with the counter-protesters.
“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” he said.
Those comments were met with swift criticism from across the political spectrum.
Earlier Friday, he announced that he’d spoken with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the “horrific” massacre of Muslim worshippers.
Tarrant, 28, posted a 73-page manifesto on social media before the attacks Friday in Christchurch. His overriding motive in carrying out the massacre was to remove non-Europeans from European lands. “I mostly agree with Sir Oswald Mosley’s views and consider myself an Eco-fascist by nature,” he wrote.
Mosley, an anti-Semite who led a fascist movement and who sought to reconcile Britain and Nazi Germany before the war, was interned by the British during much of the war.
Tarrant, an Australian, denied being an anti-Semite so long as Jews live in Israel. “A jew living in israel is no enemy of mine, so long as they do not seek to subvert or harm my people,” he writes. A similar view of Jews was held by Anders Behring Breivik, the white supremacist who killed 77 young people in Norway in 2011 and whom Tarrant names as a role model.
The self-confessed attacker of the New Zealand Mosques, Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old fitness trainer from Australia (Screencapture/Channel 13)
“The invaders must be removed from European soil, regardless of where they came from. Roma, African, Indian, Turkish, Semitic or other,” Tarrant writes.
The gunman’s manifesto was a welter of often politically contradictory views, touching on many of the most combustible issues of the day, among them the Second Amendment right to own guns, Muslim immigration, terrorist attacks and the wealthiest 1 percent.
He portrayed himself as a racist and a fascist and raged against non-Westerners, but said China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values.
The gunman said he was not a member of any organization, acted alone and chose New Zealand to show that even the most remote parts of the world are not free of “mass immigration.”
Last year, New Zealand’s prime minister announced that the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on a promise to take in more refugees, called it “the right thing to do.”