White House denounces 'act of hate' in mosque shooting

A police vehicle is parked outside the Islamic Center of Washington, Friday, March 15, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A police vehicle is parked outside the Islamic Center of Washington, Friday, March 15, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump sent condolences Friday to the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre, and the White House issued a statement denouncing the "vicious act of hate."

The gunman accused of being behind at least one of the mosque shootings left a rambling manifesto that mentioned Trump in a single reference, calling him "a symbol of renewed white identity," a connection the White House denounced as "outrageous." The reference nonetheless cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the way that the president has been embraced by some on the far right.

The president tweeted Friday that his "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."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders went further in denouncing the shooter's actions, with a statement that said the "United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate."

The man accused of the shootings, whose name was not immediately released, left behind a 74-page document that outlined his motivations. He is a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hates immigrants and who was set off by attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. He embraced Nazi imagery, voiced support for fascism and, at one point, cheered on Trump.

"Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?" was one of the questions the manifesto's author posed to himself. His answer: "As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no."

Trump, who as a candidate proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, has drawn criticism as being slow to condemn white supremacy and related violence.

After a 2017 clash between white nationalists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one demonstrator dead, Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides" of the confrontation. He did not immediately reject the support of David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard, during his presidential campaign.

Trump's hardline immigration rhetoric and calls to return America to its traditional past have been embraced by many on the conservative fringes, including those who troll online with racist imagery, as well as white supremacists who have looked to engage in violence.

In Florida, Cesar Sayoc, who had decorated his van with Trump propaganda, was accused of mailing explosives last fall to Democratic Party officials and media members, many of whom had been criticized by the president. The president said Sayoc had been "insane" long before he became a Trump fan.

Last month, a former Coast Guard official was accused of stockpiling weapons in a plot to kill media members and liberal politicians as part of a plan to transform the U.S. into a white ethno-state. It took more than a week for Trump to respond to the plot, which he deemed "a shame."

The number of hate groups nationwide has risen significantly since Trump took office, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The White House quickly rejected any link between the shooting and Trump.

"It's outrageous to even make that connection between this deranged individual that committed this evil crime to the president who has repeatedly condemned bigotry, racism and made it very clear that this is a terrorist attack," Mercedes Schlapp, the White House's director of strategic communication, told reporters. "We are there to support and stand with the people of New Zealand."

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