WASHINGTON -- President Trump blamed racism and white supremacy this week for the mass slaying of at least 22 people at a shopping center in El Paso, Texas.
The murders were allegedly committed by a 21-year-old man who had written a racially charged manifesto about “the Hispanic invasion” -- a militaristic term often used by Trump over the course of his presidency.
It was the first of two mass shootings over the weekend, the other outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman -- one with a history of violence, who kept a “hit list” of people he wanted to target -- killed nine people.
Trump’s critics blamed the massacres on his fiery, anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric. “He‘s made this bed and he’s got to lie in it,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
But when the president delivered his response to the killings this week, he condemned the same behavior that his political critics have applied to him.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said at the White House Monday. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
Police have called the El Paso shooting a hate crime, and they are treating it as a case of “domestic terrorism.”
But the deranged young man who wrote a manifesto before loading up his assault rifle and driving to Walmart in El Paso was heavily influenced by Trump’s own words -- that America was being threatened by an “invasion” of Latinos.
“People hate the word ‘invasion,’” Trump has said, “but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. ... And in many cases, and in some cases, you have killers coming in and murderers coming in, and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” he said in March.
But the truth is that the vast majority of migrants arriving at our border, largely from Central America, are fleeing crime -- seeking asylum, jobs and safety. Most come to the border to get on a lengthy waiting list for an appearance in court to hear their case.
Trump has demagogued the immigration issue up one side and down the other, playing to the fears of people who believe his tales that all immigrants are criminals, killers, rapists, drug dealers and worse.
And his anti-immigrant rhetoric has grown increasingly hysterical at his political rallies, ultimately leading to the violence we have seen this past week.
In one widely reported remark, Trump asked the crowd, “How do you stop these people?”
One of his supporters in the audience shouted, “Shoot them.”
Trump replied, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”
As this is written, Trump was planning to visit El Paso and Dayton, but reports from these cities strongly suggest that the people who live there don’t want him to come. Interviews by reporters with many people gathered at a makeshift memorial behind the El Paso Walmart showed they were largely opposed to his visit.
“Now’s not the time,” said David Nevarez, who describes himself as a veterans’ advocate, to the Washington Post. “We do not need anybody fanning the flames of hate, anger and racism. There’s enough in this world already.”
Then there was Maxine Morales, an El Paso native who brought her two children to the memorial. She said the president’s rhetoric about immigration and the border have done damage to the city.
”At this moment, I’m just filled with anger and frustration and sadness,” Morales told the Post, her voice breaking. “My parents were immigrants. They came here to better their lives and to make sure that we all had better lives. So that really hits home and it hurts.”
My parents were immigrants, too. My father came to America at age 12 by himself, sent here by his widowed mother to live with an uncle in the hope of making a better life for himself, which he did.
He didn’t take someone’s job; rather, he attended night school, learned a trade as a barber, and eventually opened a thriving business that created jobs for other barbers whom he employed.
He married, built a house in an upscale community that helped create jobs for homebuilders, raised three children and sent them off to college.
The hardworking, family-oriented, religious immigrants who still come here in search of the American dream are no different than the ones who came before them. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.