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Donald Trump Repeated a White Nationalist Talking Point About the South African Government, and South Africa Just Fired Back

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump meets with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, in the Oval Office at the White House July 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has long been accused of harboring racist sentiments––this is the man who referred to Mexicans as "rapists" and called Haiti and African nations "shithole countries," after all––and his latest talking point is straight from the playbook of white nationalists.

Trump, in what appears to be a response to a segment on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, said he’d asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures."


Soon afterward, Khusela Diko, a spokeswoman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, told Reuters that Trump was "misinformed" about South Africa's planned land reforms. The South African government would “take up the matter through diplomatic channels," Diko added.

"Hysterical comments and statements do not assist in the process," Diko later told CNN. "The majority of South Africans want to see land reform. The majority of our farmers, white and black want to be a part of this initiative."

In a tweet, the South African government said it "totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past," adding that it would "speed up the pace of land reform in an inclusive manner."

Land reform––more specifically "land restitution"––was one of the promises made by the African National Congress when it came to power in South Africa in 1994, in response to the Native Lands Act of 1913. which "prohibited the establishment of new farming operations, sharecropping or cash rentals by blacks outside of the reserves" on which they were forced to live. White nationalists have claimed that the movement has sparked a "genocide" against white farmers who've opposed redistributing lands.

These claims have been disproven time and again, and Trump quickly became the target of criticism for perpetuating a bald faced lie.

According to activist Richard Raber, whose pieces for South Africa's daily online newspaper The Daily Maverick have examined the white nationalist response to land restitution at length, "such anxieties and nostalgia reflect a lack of imagination, leadership, and most importantly empathy."

He adds:

Similarly, European, Australian and North American xenophobic reactions reflect a fear of de-centring, of no longer occupying a core or exceptional position. Lacking popular leadership with the capacity to tap into the visceral nature of these fears, we find ourselves with large segments of our societies accepting and acting upon demonstrably false truths; white genocide is mythical (and those who peddle it are reprehensible) though the fear of being shifted to the political, intellectual, moral or representational periphery feels true for its adherents.

The White House has not commented on accusations that it has, through the president, legitimized a white nationalist myth.

Activist Holly Figueroa O'Reilly, the founder of Blue Wave Crowdsource, a nonprofit which supports Democratic political candidates, pointed out that Trump's tweet about South Africa is merely a distraction from the fact that his former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to federal crimes and that his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight criminal counts in a separate case.

Cohen's plea is especially noteworthy because he, speaking under oath to a federal judge yesterday as he pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts––five charges of felony tax evasion, two counts of campaign finance violations, and one count of bank fraud––implicated the president in a federal crime, saying that he made hush money payments to two different women at Trump's behest to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In the last few hours, Trump has continued to claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling is a "witch hunt" and criticized his former political opponent Hillary Clinton for losing the election, saying her campaign "forgot to campaign in numerous states!"

Trump's deflection was also on display during a Fox News interview yesterday, when he suggested that President Barack Obama was himself guilty of campaign finance violations but was able to avoid significant fallout because "he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.”

A legal expert has said it’s “extremely implausible” that an attorney general could influence the regulation or prosecution of violation of campaign finance laws. Intent and motivation are important factors; the Federal Election Commission concluded that the Obama campaign did not intend to commit federal crimes.