Before he vetoed the resolution approved by Congress rebuking his usurpation of the constitutional powers of the legislative branch through his emergency declaration, President Donald J. Trump offered what were intended to be soothing words to those contemplating the horrors of attacks on two New Zealand mosques by a white nationalist.
Expressing solidary with the people of New Zealand, the president said, “These sacred places of worship were turned into scenes of evil killing—”
The president’s words are remarkable only in their insincerity. For nearly two decades, Trump has been part of an apparatus for which Islamophobia is an animating force. When a Muslim group sought to build a community center in lower Manhattan at a site near the ashes of the World Trade Center, Trump jumped on the bandwagon helmed by Muslim-hater Pamela Geller, who dubbed the doomed project the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Interviewed by David Letterman in September 2010, Trump suggested that Muslims were America’s enemies. Speaking of opposition to the community center, Letterman asked, “[D]oes this suggest that we are in fact officially at war with Muslims? Is that what this suggests?”
“Well, somebody knocked down the World Trade Center,” Trump replied.
The self-described “economic nationalists” with whom Trump has surrounded himself—Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and the rest of the crew fueled by the dark dollars of hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer—are first-rate Islamophobes, as are many of the religious-right figures who regularly find themselves seated at White House tables.
It would be unfair, however, to lay wholly at the president’s feet the export of U.S.-style anti-Muslim extremist and white nationalism. That would deprive the Republican Party of the credit it deserves.
In 2012, the Family Research Council hired Jerry Boykin, a retired army general who got in trouble with the Pentagon brass for casting the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of September 22, 2001, as a Christian crusade. At a panel presided over by Boykin at the 2012 Values Voter Summit, an annual political gathering convened by FRC’s political arm, one panelist accused then-President Obama of putting America “in a headlock so we can be raped by Islamic nations.” Boykin himself warned the audience that “the Muslim Brotherhood speaks for all Muslims.” Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who found a gravy train for himself in making false claims about Muslims and Islam, was on hand to join in the fun.
The anti-Muslim utterances of Boykin and Gaffney were no secret before they appeared at the summit, but that didn’t stop Mitt Romney, then the GOP presidential nominee, from addressing the event by video, or his running-mate, Paul Ryan, from appearing in person. (In fact, Romney met privately with Boykin a month before the Values Voter Summit.) The religious right, so obsequiously courted by many ostensibly mainstream Republicans, has long been a hotbed of anti-Islamic fervor.
And one need only look at the utterances of some of its own elected and administration officials to see the relationship between Islamophobia and the white nationalism embraced by the violent right. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas once called for police to focus on patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. Mike Pompeo, the former congressman serving as secretary of state, once invited ACT for America, a virulently anti-Islam organization, to Capitol Hill for a briefing, and accepted the group's 2016 National Security Eagle Award, its highest honor. (The Southern Poverty Law Center lists ACT as an anti-Muslim hate group.) National Security Adviser John Bolton served on the board of an anti-Muslim organization, and wrote the forward to Pam Geller's book, "The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America." And Representative Steve King, despite being stripped of his committee assignments, still serves in Congress despite having defended the ideology of white nationalism.
In his manifesto, the New Zealand killer opened with his concern over the birthrate among white women being below what racists call the “replacement rate” for white people. This is the root of the “white genocide” myth propagated by white nationalists such as Steve King (aspects of which have amplified by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and President Trump). “You can't rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies,” King told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in a 2017 interview. “You've got to keep your birth rate up and you need to teach your children your values. In doing so, you can grow your population and strengthen your culture, strengthen your way of life.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump famously retweeted the postings of white nationalists. More recently, at an October rally for Cruz’s reelection campaign, Trump declared quite simply, “I am a nationalist.” Not an “economic nationalist.” Just a nationalist. The crowd went wild. They knew just what he meant. The modifier was implied, and it wasn’t the word “economic.”
Asked if he considered the rise of white nationalism to be a serious problem, the president dismissed the question, saying he believed it to be confined to “a small group of people with very, very serious problems, I guess.”
This is today’s Republican Party. It’s been on this road for a while—spreading the hate, then offering thoughts and prayers. Its leaders rebuff every attempt to identify and address the threat posed by white supremacist extremists. So one can only deduce that it’s a threat GOP leaders believe somehow redounds to the party’s favor.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's relationship to an anti-Muslim organization; this has been corrected.