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Montage: Media Race to Politicize New Zealand Terror Attack, Blame Trump

‘If you are a monster and hear the president of the United States say that what do you do?’



Who exactly is behind the worst terror attack in New Zealand history is still coming into focus, but in the U.S. media, the real culprit is already known: President Trump.

On Friday morning, anchors and reporters at MSNBC and CNN were quick to connect the terror attack — in which 49 people in two Christchurch mosques were killed — to Trump.

The trend began moments after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the tragedy in a press conference, which occurred late Thursday night in the U.S. After she concluded her remarks, CNN’s Don Lemon tossed to a columnist for the Intercept, Mehdi Hasan, who immediately tied the tragedy back to Trump.

“I think to kind of talk about the story we talked about before in terms of Trump's rhetoric as well,” Hasan said. “Western government has turned a blind eye to domestic terrorism, to domestic far-right terrorism. … So, this is not just about Trump but about politicians especially on the right taking seriously this problem and really being careful about their language at the very minimum.”

CNN’s Juliette Kayyem said most terrorism these days come from “right-wing extremism,” which she said included anti-Semitic attacks like the one in Pittsburgh. These attacks, she continued, are motivated by rhetoric that comes “from the top.”

“That sense of zero sum game is what animates the ideology and literature and public and political amplification we are seeing in places like — for example, like in Australia which has a big sentiment there, but obviously Europe and the United States,” Kayyem said. “It’s got to be toned down from the top.”

CNN’s Berman agreed the attack is related to rhetoric here in the United States.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s New Zealand, it’s far away;’ the rhetoric isn’t far away at all,” he said. “The language of invasion, which is all over the manifesto, was the same language used by the Pittsburgh killer in the synagogue. Invasion is also language that’s been used in political campaign ads by the President before the midterm elections. The language of replacement in the manifesto. We heard white supremacists chant ‘Jews will not replace us’ in Charlottesville. This is not happening in New Zealand. It’s happening everywhere and very, very close to home.”

MSNBC’s Eddie Glaude Jr. said, “There's an epidemic of hatred and fear that’s engulfing the world, and we need to be mindful in our own rhetoric and our own actions how we’re pushing it.”

Back on CNN, Berman asked a spokesman for Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera, is there’s a connection between the attack and political rhetoric in the United States.

Khera said she would go even further and blame Trump himself. 

“I would go further to say why they are seeing inspiration from our own president is you have a president who, when he was a candidate, talked about banning Muslims from entering this country,” she said. “As president, one of the first acts as a policy matter was to put in place that policy. The policy was cheered on by the white nationalist groups. Our president then called the neo-Nazi marchers very fine people. Now the shooter according to reports specifically invoked our president as an inspiration and said he was a symbol of the white identity movement.”

In another CNN segment, host John Berman repeatedly attempted to bait Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to blame Trump for the attack. The congressman, though, repeatedly stressed that it’s irresponsible to try drawing a direct connection. 

Here’s an excerpt of their exchange: 

BERMAN: "The person giving a sign of allegiance to President Trump is the killer here. He called him a symbol of white identity. The language he uses in this manifesto is all about invaders. It is all about invaders, similar to the killer at the synagogue in Pittsburgh and language President Trump used in a campaign ad before the midterm election. The word invader means something to people around the world."
KINZINGER: "For the president to say I'm concerned with illegal immigration --“
BERMAN: "He says invaders.”
KINZINGER: "Hold on. To say that and go to a guy willing to kill 50 people he may say, President Trump is my idol. That doesn't put it on president Trump. I don't know what a sick man that would kill 49 people innocently was thinking. I don't have any idea what was in his mind. I know this. It cannot be connected. We cannot say what is it President Trump is doing that's triggering these people? This is an evil man that made a decision to murder 49 people. And that is on him. Frankly, the evil in his heart." 

The manifesto is more murky than the media is reporting. The author says he’s fine with being labeled right wing, left wing, as well as socialist. He said Trump serves as a “symbol” of “white and identity and common purpose” but on the question of whether he’s a Trump supporter, he writes, “Dear god no.” The overall tone appears intended at inciting racial violence and division. 

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