President Donald Trump echoed language used by the suspected gunman in a set of mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, calling immigration at the southern U.S. border an “invasion.”
The president made the comments during a signing ceremony for his first official veto, rejecting a bipartisan resolution terminating his national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The president first declared a national emergency last month in order to divert funding from other areas of the government to build his long-promised border wall.
During the signing ceremony, the president expressed condolences for the victims of the attack, which left at least 49 people dead, calling the event an “evil killing” and a “horrible thing,” before pivoting back to the border.
“Congress’ vote to deny the crisis on the southern border is a vote against reality,” he said. “It is a tremendous national emergency. It is a tremendous crisis.”
He added, “Last month, more than 76,000 illegal migrants arrived at our border. We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders. People hate the word ‘invasion’ but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. You have no idea who they are.”
Trump proceeded to insist that “in many cases, they’re stone cold criminals,” and suggested “they do a lot of damage in many cases,” but presented no evidence to back his claims.
In a manifesto allegedly written by the suspected New Zealand shooter, published online shortly before the twin attacks on Friday, Brenton Tarrant, 28, complained of an “invasion…by nonwhites,” and used white nationalist rhetoric to suggest those of European descent were at risk. The manifesto itself was titled “The Great Replacement,” a reference to the supposed threat white people face as a result of immigration.
The alleged gunman’s weapons were also painted with white nationalist symbols and references to other white supremacist attackers.
The suspected shooter also praised Trump directly, describing him “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
During Friday’s signing ceremony, Trump was asked directly whether he believed white nationalism was a threat around the world, to which he replied, “I don’t really. 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,” he added. “I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved. But it’s certainly a terrible thing. Terrible thing.”
In December, the Institute for Economics and Peace issued its sixth Global Terrorism Index report, noting that while deaths connected to terrorism had slowed over the past three years, far-right political terrorism posed a growing and concerning threat.
The threat is especially evident in the United States, where the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported attacks from far-right extremists had risen over the past decade, quadrupling between 2016 and 2017.
As ThinkProgress previously noted, Trump himself has pushed some of the same conspiracy theories mentioned by the suspected gunman. In August, the president tweeted that he had instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The tweet was a reference to a conspiracy theory about white genocide in South Africa, similar to the Great Replacement theory, a favored topic of many white nationalists.