Donald Trump understands his base better than anyone. He gets what makes them cheer and what turns them off. And Trump’s response to Friday’s horrific white supremacist terrorist attack in New Zealand that saw 49 Muslims murdered was coldly calculated to play to them, especially his refusal to use the term “white supremacist terrorism.”
But first there was to Trump’s reaction to the terrorist attack on Twitter where he spoke of standing, “in solidarity with New Zealand” and declaring, “We love you New Zealand!” Great sentiment but where was the mention of Muslims, as in, “I stand with the Muslim community today”?! After all, the 49 victims were all Muslims killed in their place of worship because they were Muslim.
There’s no doubt Trump’s failure to say any kind words about Muslims was by design. Trump understands that would likely upset his base whom he has fed a diet of anti-Muslim hate, from declaring that “Islam hates us” to calling for a total ban on Muslims coming to this country, and his 2016 comment that takes on a different meaning after Friday’s terror attack: “We're having problems with the Muslims coming into this country…You have to deal with the mosques, whether we like it or not.”
And then, Friday afternoon, it got worse. Responding to a question by an ABC reporter about whether he believed there was a growing threat of white nationalism worldwide, Trump responded, “I don’t really,” adding, “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Our own ears and eyes (as well as statistics) tells us that’s a lie. Again, this reaction is because Trump gets his base better than anyone.
Of course, this is the same Trump who hammered Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign for not saying the phrase, “radical Islamic Terrorism.” As Trump declared then, “Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won’t say the name.”
But repeating time and time again “radical Islamic terrorism” plays great with Trump’s base. After all 65 percent of 2016 GOP primary voters supported banning all Muslims from entering America. In contrast, if Trump slammed white supremacists, that would not excite them.
I made that very point in my May 2017 article, months before Charlottesville, after two deadly attacks by self-professed white supremacists, one in Portland and the other in New York City. In fact, after the New York City attack by a self-avowed 28-year-old white supremacist who murdered a black man in the hopes of starting a race war, the murderer was even charged with terrorism by the Manhattan District Attorney.
But still Trump refused to use the phrase “white supremacist terrorism.” While Trump remained silent, white supremacists, however, did not. In response to that article, Trump-supporting white supremacists at the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website were so outraged that I would demand this of Trump, they fabricated tweets in my name claiming I was involved in the Manchester, England bombing that had occurred a few weeks before at an Ariana Grande concert. And then they urged their supporters to “confront” me, which they did in a barrage of death threats. (I sued the New Nazi website in a lawsuit in federal court that is still pending.)
And just three months later came Charlottesville, where MAGA hats littered the crowd as did white supremacists who in the past had praised Trump, such as former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. And after yet another white supremacist terrorist attack on Trump’s watch, with the murder of Heather Heyer at that rally, Trump blamed “both sides” while still refusing to say the words, “white supremacist terrorism.”
At this point, Trump lies somewhere between an apologist for white supremacist terrorism and a person who inspires people to commit such acts. While ultimately those who commit the violent acts are responsible for their crimes, we can’t ignore the connection between people who support Trump and white supremacist violence. For example, the gunman in New Zealand hailed Trump in his manifesto as “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
And we have just recently seen two other groups of self-avowed white supremacist Trump supporters either be arrested to or sentenced to prison for plotting to kill Muslims in America, in attacks that would’ve looked like what we just saw in New Zealand. In January, four young white man were arrested plotting to kill Muslims in Islamberg, New York, a primarily African-American Muslim community about two hours north of New York City. One of the men arrested not only praised Trump but also white-supremacist images like Confederate statues while speaking of killing Muslims on social media, including children: “Kids have been shown to be terrorists too and have killed our people. The Koran tells them to kill us so they’re all GUILTY.”
Also in January, three other self-avowed Trump-supporting white supremacists who had plotted to kill Muslim refugees from Somalia living in Kansas were sentenced to 25 years in prison. These men were trying to “wake people up” to threat of Muslim immigration and one even quoted Trump’s own debunked tale of a U.S. general dipping bullets into pig blood before killing Muslims, while stating, “If you’re a Muslim I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head.”
Yet still Trump won’t say the words “white supremacist terrorism.” And he never will because Trump’s number one concern is winning in 2020. Trump is simply following his 2016 campaign playbook that took him to the White House which included retweeting white supremacists and refusing to denounce David Duke when first asked to do so on national TV. And that should scare all Americans who oppose white supremacy.