How Trump’s Base Responds to a Terror Attack Against Muslims

As humans, we tend to be uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance. When reality inserts itself into our lives in a way that challenges our basic assumptions about the world, we go in search of evidence that can dispute the intrusion.

For many Trump supporters, who also happen to be white evangelical Christians, the terrorist attack by white supremacists against Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, stirred up a powerful dose of cognitive dissonance. After all, they have been inundated with messages about how it is Muslims who are the terrorists that threaten us—not the other way around.

That is why, immediately after the shooting in New Zealand, articles about Muslims killing of Christians in Nigeria started showing up in various publications and traveled quickly around social media. Breitbart got the ball rolling.

The recent death toll of Christians in Nigeria has reached 120 with this week’s slaughter of more than 50 by Fulani Muslim militants in the Kaduna state of Nigeria, the Christian Post reported.

In case that was too subtle, they came back the next day with an article titled, “Media Silence Surrounds Muslim Massacre of Christians.”

Political leaders and public figures were falling over themselves this weekend to condemn the mosque attacks in New Zealand, while dozens of Christians were slaughtered by Muslims in Nigeria to the sound of crickets.

If you know any white evangelicals, you might have seen references to this on their social media or heard them talk about it. So it is important to know that, while Breitbart and other sites got most of the facts right, the stories are taken completely out of context. A report from the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization that researches violent conflicts around the world, fills that gap.

In the first half of 2018, more than 1,300 Nigerians have died in violence involving herders and farmers. What were once spontaneous attacks have become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night. Now claiming about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict poses a grave threat to the country’s stability and unity…

The conflict is fundamentally a land-use contest between farmers and herders across the country’s Middle Belt. It has taken on dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions, however, because most of the herders are from the traditionally nomadic and Muslim Fulani who make up about 90 per cent of Nigeria’s pastoralists, while most of the farmers are Christians of various ethnicities.

… The conflict’s roots lie in climate-induced degradation of pasture and increasing violence in the country’s far north, which have forced herders south; the expansion of farms and settlements that swallow up grazing reserves and block traditional migration routes; and the damage to farmers’ crops wrought by herders’ indiscriminate grazing.

Not mentioned on right-wing sites is the fact that there are reports from February that 130 Fulani were killed in attacks carried out by members of the Adara ethnic group, most of whom are Christians.

What we have is a conflict that has its roots in land-use issues, but has taken on religious and ethnic dimensions. It is important to note, however, that among other factors contributing to the land-use issue is “climate-induced degradation.” As traditional means of survival are impacted by climate change around the globe, it is very likely that these kinds of violent outbreaks will emerge. To the extent that they become caught up in religious and ethnic tensions, they will provide fodder for those groups to claim victimization.

In the case of the conflict in Nigeria, the news about Christians being killed by Muslims was taken out of context and used to sooth the cognitive dissonance experienced by Trump supporters following the white supremacist terror attack in New Zealand and affirm their belief that it is Islam that poses the real threat.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.