President Trump hasn’t paid much mind to problems in Africa since taking office. Earlier this year he made an offhand remark about the continent’s “shithole countries,” but that’s about it. The comment, which came during an Oval Office meeting about protections for immigrants, renewed debate about the president’s white nationalism, which has grown harder and harder to ignore since he wondered in January why the United States can’t just accept more immigrants from countries like Norway. Trump fueled the flames last night when he once again invoked Africa, this time in service of a white nationalist conspiracy theory.
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
The tweet came less than two hours after Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized the State Department for not doing enough to prevent the “racist” South African government from taking land from the country’s white farmers.
— Media Matters (@mmfa) August 23, 2018
What Carlson described is a pet issue for white nationalists. As is the case with most everything Trump opines on, it’s far more complicated than he realizes. During apartheid, black South Africans were restricted from owning land in much of the country. When apartheid ended in 1994, white South Africans still owned the vast majority of the country’s land despite representing only a fraction of the population. This is still the case, and various land-reform measures have either failed or are progressing too slowly to make a difference. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the ruling African National Congress has changed the country’s constitution to allow the government to legally seize land. Although this has yet to happen, the move has been a source of controversy.
The “large scale killing of farmers” is a conspiracy theory pushed by white supremacists who want to believe a white genocide is underway in South Africa. The theory has been propagated internationally by a white-rights group called AfriForum, which once described apartheid as a “so-called” injustice. In May, the group visited Washington to meet with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the staff of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and pose for a picture with national-security adviser John Bolton. Though violent crime is a widespread issue in South Africa, AfriForum has singled out attacks on white farmers as racially motivated. The issue has gained traction on white nationalist forums in the United States.
Hard to imagine visiting S Africa, with its overcrowded (all black) slums & manicured (still) all-white enclaves, where most expensive restaurants have all-white patrons served by all-black staff, & coming away thinking: “The *real* problem here is the plight of white farmers" https://t.co/2MlZbrU2hC
— Will Carless (@willcarless) August 23, 2018
As Will Sommer of The Daily Beast notes, the right-wing extremists who have been crowing online about white genocide in South Africa will interpret Trump’s tweet “as another thumbs-up from the president.”
Following the president’s Wednesday night tweet, a spokesperson for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called Trump “misinformed” while noting that they plan to seek clarification from the American embassy in Pretoria, the nation’s capital. The South African government replied on Twitter that it rejects Trump’s “narrow perception” of the issue.
— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) August 23, 2018
Over the past year, in particular, Carlson has regularly engaged with xenophobia during his broadcasts. The terror of demographic change is a recurring theme of his show (“How would you feel if that happened in your neighborhood?” he asked in July), and he routinely dredges up white nationalist talking points, broadcasting them to millions of Americans, including the president, who appears to hold what he sees on Fox News in equal standing to his daily intelligence briefings. The network continues to carry his water.
The president’s loyalty to Fox News is frightening, but it could also be his undoing. In an interview with the network that aired Thursday morning, Trump maintained that nothing about the pre-election hush money was criminal, even going so far as to implicate himself by saying that the money came from him personally. Unfortunately for Trump, the Justice Department doesn’t operate based on the opinions of cable-news pundits, who have gone into overdrive trying to downplay the president’s criminality since Michael Cohen’s Tuesday afternoon guilty plea. Fortunately for Trump, he likely can’t be indicted as a sitting president, but if the Democrats take control of the government in November and move to impeach him, mind-melding with Judge Jeanine and Dan Bongino could come back to haunt him. In the meantime, Trump and fearmongering pundits like Carlson will continue to rub sticks together, hoping to heat up any issue beyond the Russia investigation.