President Donald Trump on Friday condemned a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand, then used the suspected shooter’s hateful rhetoric about Muslims to describe immigrants to the U.S.
Speaking from the Oval Office on Friday, the president called the terror attack a “horrible, horrible thing” and said he had called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “to express the sorrow of our entire nation,” according to a pool report.
He then swiftly turned to the topic of immigration, announcing he would veto Congress’ attempt to end his “national emergency” declaration to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump referred to “crimes of all kinds coming through our southern border,” adding: “People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is.”
Friday morning’s mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch left at least 49 people dead and many more wounded.
In a manifesto HuffPost has chosen not to link to, the suspected shooter celebrated white supremacy and other perpetrators of mass shootings and detailed his plans for the attack.
The suspect decided to launch the attack, he said, “to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands.”
Trump downplayed the role racist ideologies likely played in the Christchurch attack, saying Friday that he doesn’t view white nationalism as a growing threat around the globe.
“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” he said. “If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet.”
But the president has played a part in stoking xenophobia, including by framing illegal immigration as an “invasion,” enforcing a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries and referring to some undocumented immigrants as “animals.”
Fears about an immigrant “invasion” of the United States can be found throughout the 19th and 20th century, as xenophobes sought to ensure white supremacy in America by blocking groups including Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Jewish, Slavic and Latin American immigrants.
Xenophobic fears are, of course, a global phenomenon. In the aftermath of the collapse of colonialism in 1973, a French right-wing author named Jean Raspail wrote Camp of the Saints, a thoroughly racist tract that envisions an invasion of “the West” by people from the Southern Hemisphere. The book garnered a cult following in the U.S. anti-immigration community.
Former Richard Nixon adviser and three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan promoted fears of an immigrant invasion throughout the 1990s and 2000s with books with titles like State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. In Europe, French writer Renaud Camus wrote a book called Le grand remplacement — or The Great Replacement, in English — that argued Raspail’s fictional Camp of the Saints was reality.
The New Zealand shooting suspect titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement.”
Trump’s rhetoric echoes the sentiments in these books, and he has surrounded himself with people who are fans of these concepts. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager and senior White House aide, routinely championed Camp of the Saints as the most important book to explain immigration. “We are not going to let this country be invaded,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the author of The Great Replacement as Raspail.