When Chelsea Clinton showed up at a vigil Friday night in New York for victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre, she was confronted by a small group of college students who accused her of inciting the violence.
Last month, the former first daughter joined throngs of Democrats and Republicans in condemning language used by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of the two first Muslim women elected to Congress, that they saw as perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.
At the vigil, the New York University students said reactions like Clinton's "stoked" hatred of Muslims.
"This, right here, is a result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world," one student told Clinton, according to a video of the confrontation. "And I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deep down inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there."
"I'm so sorry that you feel that way," Clinton said. "Certainly, it was never my intention. I do believe words matter. I believe we have to show solidarity."
Rose Asaf, a student who was there, posted a video of the exchange on Twitter. But after intense backlash, she deleted her account. Another user captured it and posted it on his page:
The mass shooting of 49 Muslim men, women and children during their afternoon prayers, allegedly committed by a man who is an avowed white supremacist, touched off a deeply emotional debate about terrorism and far-right extremism. The tragedy came just a week after the U.S. House voted on a resolution condemning hate speech, inspired by Omar's comments. The original version only referenced anti-Semitism but was broadened to include Islamophobia. Twenty-three Republicans opposed it because it didn't solely focus on anti-Jewish remarks.
Reaction on social media to the students' treatment of Clinton shows how this tragedy is being viewed across the political landscape. Some on the far left have sided with the students and questioned why Clinton would even attend the vigil. But many others, including those who are unlikely to be Clinton allies, felt the students unfairly targeted Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr., for one, came to Clinton's defense.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, who has worked closely with the Clintons for decades, saw a different motive. She retweeted the post by Trump's son, accusing him of trying to sow discord among Democrats.
"The right wants to exploit disputes in the Center-Left. I know people are upset by the video but I urge all to move on," Tanden tweeted. "People were murdered by white nationalist hate," she wrote. "Spend your time fighting that instead of each other."
The alleged gunman in New Zealand said in 74-page manifesto that he apparently wrote that he hoped his attacks would stoke further tension in American politics. He cited President Trump as a "renewed symbol of white identity." That spurred many Democrats to point to Trump's rhetoric and policies around Muslims, and the rise of white nationalism in America after Trump's election, as culpable for the attacks.
Republicans, meanwhile, condemned hate and praised religious freedom but largely avoided references to white nationalism. When asked directly about the alleged shooter mentioning Trump by name, they strongly dismissed any suggestion that Trump helped trigger the attack.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also defended the president, saying: If people read the entire manifesto, they'll see the admitted shooter is not a conservative but rather an "eco-terrorist," a term often used to describe politically motivated attacks on behalf of the environment. When asked by reporters about the global rise of white nationalism, Trump downplayed it, saying it was just "a small group of people."
Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), one of three Muslims in Congress, said the president's remarks were a dog whistle to white supremacists. Trump is "making sure that those folks in his base who probably can't be aligned with him publicly know that I still appreciate the support, I'm with you, I'm over here," Carson said in a CNN interview Friday night. "And they've heard the message loudly and clearly."
Others took aim at Trump. Earlier in the day, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted: "Daily reminder that we have a **Muslim Ban** in this country made out of the President's hostility to Muslim people w/ little-to-no supporting evidence, and a Republican Party that tolerates it."
Chelsea Clinton retweeted it.