US President Donald Trump waded into the controversy over his response to the massacre of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques, complaining that he was being blamed for the tragedy.
“The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand,” Mr Trump told his more than 59 million followers on Twitter.
“They will have to work very hard to prove that one,” he tweeted. “So Ridiculous!”
The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2019
Mr Trump appeared to be referring to criticism of his response to the attack, which was allegedly carried out by a 28-year-old white supremacist claiming to be resisting genocide against white people.
In a lengthy written rant, the alleged killer Brenton Tarrant referred to Mr Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
Mr Trump did on several occasions tweet and speak to condemn the “horrible” attack and offer any US assistance to New Zealand’s authorities.
However, he courted controversy on Saturday when he played down the wider implications of the gunman’s ideology, saying that violent white nationalism is not a growing problem.
“It’s a small group of people,” he said.
Mr Trump, whose own previous responses to the movement have drawn scrutiny, expressed sympathy for the victims who died at “places of worship turned into scenes of evil killing.” But he declined to join expressions of mounting concern about white nationalism, saying “I don’t, really” when asked whether he thought it was a rising threat around the world.
“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” Mr Trump said. “If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. But it’s certainly a terrible thing.”
Earlier, Mr Trump sent his “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to New Zealand, offering America’s help.
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Speaking on Fox and Friends, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said it was “predictable” and “outrageous” that Mr Trump had been linked with the shooter.
“Unlike like most mass shootings, this man came with pre-receipts, if you will,” Conway said. “He put out a 70-page manifesto, and I guess everybody scoured it, searched for Donald Trump’s name, and there it is, one time.
“But he also said he aligns closely with the ideology of China. He said he’s not a conservative, he’s not a Nazi, I think he referred to himself as an eco-naturalist or an eco-fascist. But people should read the entire — in its entirety.”
Mr Trump’s homeland security chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, said on Monday in a speech where she said that “domestic terrorists,” like the New Zealand killer, increasingly resemble the better known threat from Islamist groups.
“The primary terrorist threat to the United States continues to be from Islamist militants and those they inspire, but we should not and cannot and must not ignore the real and serious danger posed by domestic terrorists,” she said.
“They are using the same do-it-yourself, mass murder tactics as we saw with the horrible assault last week in New Zealand against Muslim worshippers,” she said.
Mr Trump’s dismissal of a broader security threat led to a flurry of criticism from Democrats and other critics over the weekend.
They pointed to his frequent labelling of illegal immigrants as invaders, his high-profile restrictions on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, and a lukewarm condemnation of a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“Time and time again, this president has embraced and emboldened white supremacists – and instead of condemning racist terrorists, he covers for them. This isn’t normal or acceptable,” tweeted Kirsten Gillibrand, who formally entered the Democratic race for the White House on Sunday.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney went on television on Sunday to push back, saying “the president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that.”
“To simply ask the question every time something like this happens overseas, or even domestically, to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, it must somehow be the president’s fault,’ speaks to a politicisation of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today,” he said on Fox television.
Originally published as ‘So ridiculous’: Trump slams NZ claims