This past summer, there was a mass shooting in El Paso, TX. The shooter cited white nationalist themes and quoted words used by President Trump:
“…President Trump repeatedly warned that America was under attack by immigrants heading for the border. ‘You look at what is marching up, that is an invasion!’ he declared at one rally. ‘That is an invasion!’
Nine months later, a 21-year-old white man is accused of opening fire in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 20 people and injuring dozens more after writing a manifesto railing against immigration and announcing that ‘this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.’
The suspect wrote that his views ‘predate Trump,’ as if anticipating the political debate that would follow the blood bath. But if Mr. Trump did not originally inspire the gunman, he has brought into the mainstream polarizing ideas and people once consigned to the fringes of American society.
…Mr. Trump has filled his public speeches and Twitter feed with sometimes false, fear-stoking language…At a Florida rally in May, the president asked the crowd for ideas to block migrants from crossing the border. ‘How do you stop these people?’ he asked. ‘Shoot them!’ one man shouted. The crowd laughed and Mr. Trump smiled. ‘That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff,’ he said. ‘Only in the Panhandle.’ (Shear, 2019)
When I read that the killings could be tied to white nationalism, this phrase came up in my heart: How can we fan the flames of racism and not expect a fire? I was troubled when I read the response from some Republicans that said it was a “political move” to tie the words of the president to a “deranged lunatic.” (Shear, 2019) It was called “disgusting” and “outrageous” to try to connect the killings to the words of the President:
“Grant Stinchfield, a former host of NRATV, the defunct online media arm of the National Rifle Association, said his ‘heart aches’ for the victims of El Paso, but he accused the news media and Democrats of unfairly blaming Mr. Trump for a crime committed by a ‘disgusting, deranged human being.’
‘Evil has existed since the beginning of time,’ Mr. Stinchfield said. ‘To blame the president or any other conservative on the actions of a deranged lunatic is insane and flat-out disgusting. The problem with liberals today is they do not want to take responsibility for anything. They will blame everyone but the shooter.’” (Shear, 2019)
When will we hold the President accountable for his words and actions? When will he be forced to “take responsibility” for his words? Since I read the “only get away with it in the panhandle” comment in the New York Times and Washington Post, I decided to search for the transcript of the President’s entire speech.
What I found was an audio copy of the entire speech from the May campaign rally. The audio of the rally was much worse in light of the tragedy in El Paso.
In his public address to the nation after the El Paso tragedy, the President said, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” (Sonmez, 2019) But at the May campaign rally, he cavalierly joked about shooting migrants in the Texas panhandle while the crowd roared. (Rieger, 2019)
At the same rally, he mocked refugees, portraying them as tattooed thugs faking suffering and the fear of death to gain entry into the United States. It was reprehensible. The nation has seen countless images of families, women, and children trying to escape crisis conditions in their home country. Yet in the comfort of his Make America Great Again family, the President showed his true colors by mocking refugees and calling each crisis country by name.
Instead of speaking of compassion and American relief efforts in these countries, he spoke of a wall. Instead of referring to the people as refugees fleeing crisis conditions, he called them an “invasion,” the same description the El Paso shooter used to describe the migrants he targeted.
To be clear when we review the President’s words, we aren’t talking about a few slips of the tongue here and there at a rally; we are talking about a consistent pattern, a continual stirring of racism:
“…Mr. Trump embraced racist conspiracies for years: He was among the leading voices who pushed the ‘birtherism’ lie claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. And since his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Trump has taken those views to the center of American politics. He denounces immigrant gang members as “animals” and complains that unauthorized migrants ‘pour into and infest’ the United States. Illegal immigration is a ‘monstrosity,’ he says, while demanding that even American-born congresswomen of color ‘go back’ to their home countries.” (Shear, 2019)
As an African-American, I don’t see how an audience member’s yelling out of, “shoot them” is any different from someone yelling out, “let’s lynch some niggers!” That person might not have got the rope or put the noose around a black person’s neck, but they may have been the spark that lit the flame.
In this particular case, the President fanned the spark with the suggestion of a specific area of the country where such a hate crime might be feasible. The May rally in Florida is the second rally in a row where someone has yelled out some odious racist comment, and the President failed to condemn it.
We have relatively new laws on hate speech where people in seemingly every walk of life have been called to task, held accountable for their words. Do not these same laws and principles apply to the person that holds the highest office in our land?
“A USA TODAY analysis of the 64 rallies Trump has held since 2017 found that, when discussing immigration, the president has said ‘invasion’ at least 19 times. He has used the word ‘animal’ 34 times and the word ‘killer’ nearly three dozen times.
The exclusive USA Today analysis showed that together, Trump has used the words ‘predator,’ ‘invasion,’ ‘alien,’ ‘killer,’ ‘criminal’ and ‘animal’ at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times. More than half of those utterances came in the two months prior to the 2018 midterm election, underscoring that Trump views immigration as a central issue for his core supporters.
He often turns to harsh rhetoric to describe gang members who are immigrants. But Trump just as often conflates the MS-13 gang, proliferating in South America and some U.S. communities, with the broader movement of immigrants across the border.
‘The use of repetition – a propaganda mainstay – points to an intention by Trump to impose a way of thinking about his designated targets,’ she said.” (Fritze, 2019)
Using the words from the Stinchfield quote above it is “flat-out disgusting” that supporters of the President “do not want to take responsibility for anything” he says, even when he suggests that people can “get away with” shooting migrants in the Texas “panhandle,” and then someone actually does. (Shear, 2019)
The mass shooting in El Paso is no different from the racially inspired lynchings of my parents and grandparents’ generations. The cowards today just don’t use ropes, they use automatic weapons.
The President of the United States has a box of matches, and our country is on fire.
The President is not only the leader of a party, he is the President of the whole people. He must interpret the conscience of America. He must guide his conduct by the idealism of our people.
President Herbert Hoover
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