It happened half a world away. But the deadly mix of religious bigotry and white nationalism that struck New Zealand on Friday hit all too close to home.
Forty-nine Muslims were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques during prayers. The suspect — armed with semiautomatic weapons and airing his attack on Facebook Live — wounded dozens of additional victims, including children.
The alleged gunman, identified as Brenton Harrison Tarrant, faces murder charges; two additional suspects were arrested.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern called it the darkest of days for her country, which is considered among the safest in the world.
But in our own country, it was all too familiar. We’re no strangers to houses of worship being turned into crime scenes.
Bigotry inspired Robert Bowers to storm Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year and kill 11 Jews while shouting anti-Semitic slurs. Racism led Dylann Roof in 2015 to murder nine African-Americans during Bible study at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This is what happens when intolerance is allowed to flourish, something that’s happening more and more since President Donald Trump took office.
Tarrant, the accused New Zealand shooter, embraced right-wing white nationalism, whose adherents spout conspiracy theories about being “replaced” by non-white immigrants and spew vile anti-Muslim rhetoric. Many of them see Trump as a hero.
In a manifesto posted online, Tarrant described Roof as an inspiration and Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Of course Trump is that symbol. His anti-Muslim rhetoric is loud and clear.
Trump’s travel ban targets Muslim countries. In an exchange with a supporter — who claimed that America has “a problem” with Muslims and asked when the country could get rid of them — he nodded along and replied, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things.”
Meanwhile, in the first hours after Friday’s attack, the president released a tone-deaf statement lifted straight from a drugstore greeting card. He tweeted his “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand “after the horrible massacre in the Mosques.”
Later, at the White House, Trump shrugged off the dangers of white nationalism. “It’s a small group of people,” he said.
FBI statistics say otherwise, at least in our country. There has been an increasing number of hate crimes since 2016, and arrests stemming from right-wing domestic terror plots outstrip arrests related to plots inspired by Islamic extremism.
Bigotry and intolerance are spewed, over and over, on Trump’s quasi-state propaganda channel, Fox News, by personalities such as Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson. The two have been widely criticized for remarks that question the patriotism of American Muslims, denigrate African-Americans and decry immigrants.
And let’s not forget about the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville in 2017, wearing white polo shirts and khaki pants and carrying Tiki torches.
Some of them, Trump said, were “very fine people.” But very fine people don’t chant “Jews will not replace us” and viciously attack a black man in a parking garage.
And let’s not forget Heather Heyer, the young woman who was mowed down by a white nationalist driver during a counter-protest.
Beyond that, Trump and his supporters want to spend billions on a wall to keep out “those people” who are attempting to flee poverty and violence beyond our southern border. The president also wants to keep patriotic transgender people from serving in our military.
Intolerance and bigotry were facts of life long before Trump was born, of course. Look no further than the Holocaust.
More recently, the migrant crisis in Europe ultimately led to Brexit, which now threatens to throw Britain, and possibly the entire continent, into economic chaos. It’s already to blame for more xenophobia and the murder of a British parliament member by a right-wing terrorist.
If we can’t rein in the hate, expect to see more crime-scene tape — all over the world.
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