WASHINGTON - The White House on Sunday rejected any attempt to link President Donald Trump to the white supremacist accused of gunning down 50 people at two New Zealand mosques.
"The president is not a white supremacist," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the "Fox News Sunday" show. "I'm not sure how many times we have to say that. Let's take what happened in New Zealand [Friday] for what it is: a terrible evil tragic act."
Alleged gunman Brenton Harris Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, said in a 74-page manifesto he released shortly before the massacre unfolded at mosques in Christchurch that he viewed Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose" but did not support his policies.
The statement renewed criticism that Trump has not voiced strong enough condemnation of white nationalists.
Asked Friday after the mosque attacks whether he sees an increase in white nationalism, Trump said, "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess." He said he had not seen the manifesto.
Mulvaney said, "I don't think it's fair to cast this person as a supporter of Donald Trump any more than it is to look at his eco-terrorist passages in that manifesto and align him with [Democratic House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi or Ms. Ocasio-Cortez," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman.
"This was a disturbed individual, an evil person," he said.
Scott Brown, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, told CNN that he gave no credence to Tarrant's comments about Trump in the manifesto, saying the accused gunman "is rotten to the core." Brown said he hopes Tarrant is convicted "as quickly as he can be" and the key to his prison cell thrown away.
Trump was widely attacked in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 when he equated white supremacists with counter-protesters, saying "both sides" were to blame and that there were "fine people" on both sides of the protest.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of numerous Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination to oppose Trump in the 2020 election, said on Twitter after the New Zealand attack, "Time and time again, this president has embraced and emboldened white supremacists and instead of condemning racist terrorists, he covers for them. This isn't normal or acceptable."