Donald Trump's stance on Muslims, Fox host in spotlight after mosque shootings

10:14 am on 18 March 2019

Donald Trump championed a Fox News personality who made anti-Muslim remarks as his White House rejected any attempt to link him to the man accused of killing 50 people in the Christchurch mosque attacks.

US President Donald J. Trump gestures after attending services at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, USA

US President Donald J. Trump gestures after attending services at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, USA Photo: AFP

The violence against Muslims in New Zealand on Friday put a spotlight on Mr Trump's rhetoric about Islam and revived criticism of his handling of white supremacist violence in the United States.

"Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro," the US president wrote in Twitter posts in which he blamed Democrats for trying to "silence a majority of our Country" and advocated supporters to "stop working soooo hard on being politically correct."

At the same time, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared on Sunday television news shows to tamp down criticism that Mr Trump had not been strong enough in condemning hate speech and had fomented anti-Muslim sentiment.

"The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that," Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

On Friday, Mr Trump condemned the "horrible massacre" at the mosques in Christchurch and the White House called the shooting a "vicious act of hate." Asked by a reporter if he saw white nationalism as a rising threat around the world, Mr Trump said: "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people."

Mr Mulvaney said the mosque massacres were the work of a disturbed individual and it would not be fair to align the shooter with Mr Trump or any other politician. "I disagree that there's a causal link between Donald Trump being president and something like this happening in New Zealand," he told CBS' Face the Nation.

Mr Trump drew strong criticism in the days after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 when he equated white supremacists with counter-protesters and said "both sides" were to blame.

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Ms Pirro, a supporter of the president, was rebuked by Fox News last Sunday over comments she made questioning whether a Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, was more loyal to Islamic sharia law than the US Constitution.

Ms Pirro's show, "Justice with Judge Jeanine," was removed from its usual time slot on Saturday night. Fox News has not confirmed Ms Pirro was suspended and said it would not comment further on the matter on Sunday.

"Nice message for the president to send three days after a deadly terrorist attack on Muslims - standing up for a host who was suspended for anti-Muslim bigotry," Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman under Democratic President Barack Obama, said on Twitter.

Democratic lawmakers on Sunday called on Mr Trump to defend Muslims publicly after the massacres and recognize the threat posed by white supremacists.

"His rhetoric doesn't help," Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic presidential candidate, said on CNN's State of the Union programme. "At the very least, he is dividing people. They are using him as an excuse."

On the campaign trail in 2016, Mr Trump followed such statements as "I think Islam hates us," with an effort a week into his presidency to ban citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. After court challenges, the administration revised the policy.

US Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim, noted that government data shows a spike in hate crimes in the last decade, citing mass shootings at a synagogue and a black church.

"He cannot just say it's a small group of people," she said on CNN. "We need to be speaking up against this and it has to start with him. He needs to do better by us and the country. He needs to speak up and condemn this very loud and very clearly."

Hate crimes in the United States jumped 17 percent in 2017, according to FBI data.

- Reuters

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