Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke drew a connection between Friday’s deadly anti-Muslim shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the racist and xenophobic rhetoric regularly used by President Donald Trump and tolerated by his supporters.
“We must call out this hatred, this Islamophobia, this intolerance, and the violence that predictably follows from the rhetoric that we use. We must be better than that. We know that we need leadership that reflects it,” said O’Rourke, perched on a counter in a coffeeshop while on the campaign trail in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Although the former congressman did not use Trump’s name, O’Rourke was clear about the connection between Trump and the attack.
O’Rourke tied the New Zealand attack to instances of racism and intolerance he has encountered in the United States and comments made by “national leadership” have made many Muslims and Mexicans feel unwelcome.
“We want to make sure that the kindness, the decency, the respect we show one another in our lives and communities like these, in my hometown, is reflected in our policies, our democracy, in our leadership. And today, sadly, unfortunately, it is not,” he said.
“That gave rise to more of these hate crimes, which have increased every single year in the United States of America for the last three years.”
Forty-nine people were killed in the attack at two mosques in Christchurch. Police in New Zealand said Friday that a 28-year-old man was in custody and charged with murder.
The alleged shooter was a self-described terrorist who wrote a manifesto about white supremacy, in which he praised Trump, calling the president a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
O’Rourke, who announced his White House bid on Thursday, addressed the shooting before making campaign remarks.
“Forty-nine human beings killed, as they worshiped in two mosques — an act of violence and hatred and racism and Islamophobia that we condemn in no uncertain terms,” O’Rourke said. “I hope that you will agree with me that it is not enough to be just compassionate.”
He continued, “These acts of hatred, violence — they’re on the rise, right here in this country. They’re part of a larger disease of intolerance that has taken hold in what was thought to be the most open, the most welcoming country the world had ever known.”
Trump issued a statement about the attack on Twitter Friday morning.
“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques,” he wrote.
My 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. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Since taking office two years ago, Trump has transformed his xenophobic campaign rhetoric into similarly racist policy, including a Muslim ban. He also defended white nationalists after a rally in Charlottesville, saying the group included “some very fine people.”
In February, O’Rouke held a dueling rally with Trump in near the border in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.
“Let’s own this moment now and in the future and show the country there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to the U.S.-Mexico border,” O’Rourke said at his event. “The eyes of history, the judgment of the people of the future are looking back at this moment to see what we do as we define ourselves and this country.”
Across town, the president criticized the former congressman, saying he “has very little going for himself.”
Nearly every other 2020 candidate addressed the attack Friday, though none went so far as O’Rourke to link the attacks to Trump.
“We can’t accept a world where people are murdered because of who they are and where they worship—whether it’s mosques in Christchurch, an AME church in SC or a synagogue in PA,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted.
And yet again, the obvious bears repeating: white nationalism kills.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) March 15, 2019
“The obvious bears repeating,” former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg wrote. “White nationalism kills.”
Bernie Sanders also issued a statement on what he called a “horrific attack.”
Our thoughts are with the victims of the horrific attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. No one should have to fear for their life because of their religion. We must come together to condemn all forms of hate and violence to build a future of respect and understanding.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 15, 2019
“We must come together to condemn all forms of hate and violence to build a future of respect and understanding,” he wrote on Twitter.