In light of New Zealand’s terrorist act, we must demand that our government leaders and President Trump acknowledge and irrefutably condemn white supremacism.
Friday’s shootings in New Zealand left at least 49 people dead and over 40 injured. The attacks happened at two mosques, Masjid Al Noor in central Christchurch, and Linwood Masjid in an eastern suburb of Christchurch, during Friday prayer services. Many of the victims were refugees and migrants.
Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator, has been charged with murder. Tarrant identified himself as a white supremacist, sharing a view of President Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Tarrant’s hate-filled manifesto to social media praised the actions of other white supremacists such as Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who shot and killed 77 people in Norway in 2011 and Dylann Roof, responsible for the Charleston SC Emanuel AME church murders.
White nationalism and the politics of denial
In the aftermath of the attacks, President Trump made a statement via Twitter offering any assistance to New Zealand. What specific help that would be remained unclear. While Trump offered his “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand and condemned the acts of violence, he denied an increasing global threat of white nationalism. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” he said.
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, during her press conference said that “there is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence… these are people that I would describe as having extremist views, that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.”
In view of Ardern’s statement, Trump’s response to white nationalism is particularly troubling. The slaughter of innocent people carrying out their right to worship demands that we no longer turn a blind eye and label each violent act of the white supremacism as an isolated event.
White nationalism is a very serious problem
We need to be clear-eyed in acknowledging that white nationalism is a very serious problem. We must insist on irrefutable condemnation of the reprehensible actions and ideology of white supremacists from our President and all government leaders. Beyond that, we must hold them accountable for taking action against the proliferation of such groups that have been clearly documented by both non-profits such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and our own national intelligence agencies.
However, we cannot rely solely on our leaders to take action. Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We are accustomed to thinking of Mead’s words in the context of positive social change. Sadly, those words also ring true in the opposite direction, the direction that leads to the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday.
We must not dismiss these events or the individuals responsible for them as “just a fringe faction,” but rather, we must acknowledge the immense power that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can have, both for good and evil.
In the digital age, social media allows individuals to magnify their message exponentially, and these individuals do not need to be an organized, centralized group. Despite the President of the United States discounting their relevance, white supremacists will only expand and attract more committed adherents to their racist, minority-terrorizing behavior if we do not condemn their misbegotten ideology and take action to stop its propagation. We must be a group of thoughtful, committed citizens that changes the world for the better.