White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday morning that everyone should read the manifesto published by the suspect who targeted two New Zealand mosques last week, killing dozens. “People should read it in its entirety,” she said on Fox & Friends.
Conway seemed to be making an attempt to defend President Donald Trump, whom the shooter described in his manifesto “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” The shooter, Conway insisted on Monday, is “not conservative” and “not a Nazi” — implying that this sets him apart from the president, who Conway said “condemns hate and evil and bigotry.”
But Trump has been criticized for not directly condemning the white supremacy and Islamophobia that appears to have motivated the shooting. This weekend, he instead spent his time calling on Fox News to “bring back” host Jeanine Pirro, who was suspended last week after making Islamophobic comments on her show Justice with Judge Jeanine.
Conway went on to juxtapose the New Zealand shooting with the shooting that targeted the Republican congressional baseball team during a practice session in 2017. “We didn’t run around saying, ‘Gee, the guy said he watches MSNBC or he’s a Bernie supporter,'” she said. That shooter, however, didn’t leave a manifesto explaining his act of violence. Details about his political leanings were gleaned from his social media accounts after the fact.
It’s unclear from her comments what exactly Conway is trying to convey. She described the New Zealand shooter as a “rotten, evil, hateful, person” who wanted attention, but at the same time urged people to give him attention. She seemed to believe it was worth reading the manifesto because those who read it would likely conclude Trump was not actually a motivating factor in the attack.
There is generally consensus among criminology experts that such manifestos should not be widely published or elevated. As criminology professor James Alan Fox explained Friday, “Following up with excessive details about the killer’s lifestyle and belief system tends to humanize the assailant and can invigorate others of like minds.” Donald Trump, Jr. recognized this dynamic in the immediate aftermath of the shooting as details began to circulate on Twitter, tweeting that the media shouldn’t give the shooter the attention he wants.
Don’t give the POS NZ shooter what he wants. Don’t speak his name don’t show the footage. Seems that most agree on that. The questions is can the media do what’s right and pass up the ratings they’ll get by doing the opposite? I fear we all know the answer unfortunately.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 15, 2019
That’s not to say there aren’t important takeaways from the manifesto. In this case, in particular, the troll-laden document reflects several white nationalist concepts that have been repackaged and mainstreamed by conservatives, including Trump. The shooter appeared to believe these ideas justified his actions, which speaks to how dangerous these ideas can be when left unchecked.
But the Trump administration seems more concerned with avoiding blame than doing anything to proactively respond to the proliferation of this hateful language. Trump said as much in a tweet Monday morning.
The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2019
In this light, it’s clear Conway’s priority is controlling the narrative. On Saturday, she chided reporters for trying to politicize the shooting. “You can actually shut up and pray for people and wait for the authorities to make their judgments,” she admonished in a different Fox News appearance.
She doubled down on those comments Monday. “By the way, folks, if you’re not an expert on this, stop weighing in like you are,” she said on Fox & Friends. “We don’t need to hear your opinion on every single thing.”
The White House narrative is an attempt to frame the shooter as being so exceptional that his rhetoric doesn’t reflect on Trump or any of his supporters. Indeed, the president told reporters Friday that he doesn’t think white nationalism is a big problem. Moments before, however, he had framed immigration as an “invasion” — the exact term used in the killer’s manifesto.