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Sunday Politics


President Trump responded to the mosque shootings in New Zealand on Friday by saying it was a terrible thing. But again, contradicting national security experts, he also minimized the threat that white nationalism poses worldwide.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case. I don't know enough about it yet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president spoke as he vetoed his first bill, legislation to overturn his declaration of a national emergency in order to fund the border wall. Joining us now to talk about this and the rest of the week in politics is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, as we mentioned, the president made his comments on the Christchurch shooting during a very well-orchestrated Oval Office veto signing ceremony, this on the same day as the tragedy. What about that timing?

LIASSON: You know, whether or not the president should have held his veto ceremony on the same day that the world was reacting to this massacre - what happened was that his message got all tangled up with some of the language that this alleged shooter had used. You know, you just played what he said, saying this is an isolated incident. He's not worried about white nationalism on the rise.

But just a few moments before that, he had used - talked about immigration as an invasion. He said, quote, people hate the word invasion, but that's what it is. It's an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. He went on to say, you have killers coming in and murderers coming in - very similar to the language about non-white immigration as an invasion that the alleged shooter used. And this is a common theme of the president's - that immigrants are coming to kill us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, we have to note here that most of the recent acts of terror in this country - some 98 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League - have not been committed by immigrants or Muslims but by far right groups - many white nationalists.

LIASSON: That's right. You had church shooting in Charleston, S.C. in 2015. You had the Charleston Unite the Right March.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Charlottesville.

LIASSON: I'm sorry - Charlottesville, where a woman was killed. You also had the arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant on gun and drug charges where he had a hit list of prominent Democrats and media figures. He was a self-proclaimed white supremacist and an alleged pipe bomber. So you've had a lot of these events, and they are - make up a much larger part of planned terrorist attacks or actual terrorist attacks than any other type.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And bizarrely, we had White House adviser Kellyanne Conway saying the man charged in the mosque shootings was wrong to call President Trump a symbol of renewed white identity, as he did in his manifesto, and that the man was actually an eco-terrorist, said Kellyanne Conway, which is false.

LIASSON: He actually called himself an eco-fascist. And he did say in his written statement - he said were or are you a supporter of Donald Trump as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. And, you know, this has sparked a renewed debate about whether or not Trump's rhetoric indirectly encourages these kinds of white nationalist terrorist events. It's something that the president and the White House rejects. But it reminded everyone of his comments after Charlottesville, where he said there were good people on both sides, the tweets during the 2016 campaign bearing a picture of Hillary Clinton and a Star of David. So this has renewed a debate about the president's language.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.