As the electors of the Electoral College gathered in state capitols throughout the nation on Monday to cast their votes, a series of tragedies took place on the world stage: A truck plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin, a Russian ambassador was gunned down in Turkey, and a gunman opened fire at a mosque in Zurich, Switzerland. The juxtaposition of President-elect Donald Trump's official electoral affirmation with these events of international import seemed symbolic in nature, and Trump's statements on the Berlin crash and the assassination of the Russian ambassador were certainly indicative of what his priorities might be as president.
The slaying of Andrey G. Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, was a terrifying, and very public, event. The envoy was speaking at an art exhibit in Ankara on Monday evening when a young man, identified by Turkish officials as an off-duty police officer, opened fire while shouting "God is great" and "don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria," according to The New York Times. The perpetrator was killed in an ensuing gun battle with Turkish Special Forces.
In a statement to the press, Trump defined the gunman as a "radical Islamic terrorist" while offering his condolences to the family and loved ones of the ambassador. "The murder of an ambassador is a violation of all rules of civilized order and must be universally condemned," Trump said in the dramatic closing to his short statement.
The governments in both Turkey and Russia were also quick to label the event a terrorist attack, and President Vladimir Putin said in a televised statement that "This murder is clearly a provocation aimed at undermining the normalization of Russia-Turkish relations... The only response we should offer... is stepping up our fight against terror, and the criminals will feel the heat."
While full details about the perpetrator remain to be discovered, The Times reports that his jihadist remarks during the attack suggest he is "at least a sympathizer" of ISIS or an Al Qaeda affiliate. The assassination occurred during a particularly critical moment in Turkish-Russian diplomacy, with several recent protests in Turkey over Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict and the military and humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.
On the same evening as the assassination in Turkey, a truck drove into pedestrians at a Christmas market in West Berlin, killing 12 and injuring dozens more, according to multiple reports. Unlike with the event in Ankara, the motive of the truck driver is unclear at this point in time, though accounts from witnesses suggest that the incident was an intentional attack. CNN reports that a "German intelligence official familiar with the matter" says the crash is being investigated as an act of terrorism. A police spokesperson said the suspected driver has been apprehended.
Despite the lack of information surrounding the truck crash, an official press release from Trump's transition team stated, in full:
Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today's horrifying terror attack in Berlin. Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.
Though Trump's statement doesn't directly fault ISIS or "other Islamist terrorists" for the Berlin attack, it certainly appears to be an implication. Such willingness to assign blame prior to investigation or the gathering of evidence is worrying, and possibly indicative of how Trump will behave as Commander in Chief: recklessly. The heightened, emotional phrasing is telling as well. The "hearts and prayers" to the victims in Berlin seems almost like a preamble to the remainder of the message, which starkly pits the Christian, freedom-loving world against its enemies.
Comparatively, the statement from Thomas de Maizière, Germany's interior minister, is downright sobering:
I don’t want to use the word "attack" yet at the moment, although a lot speaks for it. There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation.
And so while the German government won't even yet label the incident an "attack," Trump's transition team has both defined the crash as a "horrifying terror attack" and implicated a connection to specific terrorist organizations. Likewise, Trump's team was not hesitant to state that the assassination in Ankara was carried out by a "radical Islamic terrorist," even as authorities in Turkey and Russia have yet to characterize the type of terrorism at hand.
Trump also sent out a tweet labeling both the assassination in Turkey and the crash in Berlin as "terror attacks" — again, before Germany has confirmed the act of terrorism. He also included a shooting that occurred at a mosque today in Zurich, Switzerland as part of his "terror attacks" list, despite Swiss authorities not yet ascertaining the motives of the gunman. According to The Washington Post, three were injured in the shooting, and police have not apprehended the unknown gunman.
Taken together, Trump's statements on Monday regarding serious international events suggest that his allegiance to truth and evidence remains tenuous, while his commitments to hawkishness, recklessness, and fear-mongering hold strong.