In August, Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen, Texas a suburb outside Dallas, told a detective that he targeted individuals of Mexican descent citing a so-called “Hispanic invasion of Texas” before killing 22 people outside an El Paso Walmart. A written manifesto, released just 19 minutes before the shooting took place, told of the true motivations behind the mass shooting, and cited talking points heralded by conservative media, and President Trump.
Democratic Candidates’ Response
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates soundly condemned the shooting and were critical of Trump’s inflammatory discourse. Cory Booker said, “there is complicity in the president’s hatred that undermines the goodness and the decency of Americans regardless of what party… to say nothing in a time of rising hatred, it’s not enough to say that ‘I’m not a hate-monger myself.’ If you are not actively working against hate, calling it out, you are complicit in what is going on.” Pete Buttigieg blamed President Trump for condoning “white nationalism,” calling it “one of the evils that is inspiring at least some to go kill Americans.”
Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke were also strong in their denunciations. Castro blasted Trump for the “division and bigotry and fanning the flames of hate has been his political strategy.”
“He’s giving license for this toxic brew of white supremacy to fester more and more in this country and we’re seeing the results of that,” Castro added.
O’Rourke, in his condemnation, blamed the president for not only tolerating racism, but promoting it. The Texas Democrat doubled down, saying Trump “helped to create what we saw in El Paso on Saturday… he’s helped to produce the suffering that we are experiencing right now. This community needs to heal.”
Comments From Conservative Media
The repudiation of Trump from O’Rourke and others has introduced a renewed focus on the president’s and conservative media’s inflammatory rhetoric, particularly with regard to immigration. Trump’s rhetoric, since introducing his presidential campaign in June 2015, has been filled with racist sentiment. The suspected El Paso shooter echoed President Trump’s language, saying he was “simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Tucker Carlson, on his prime-time Fox News show this April asked if “anyone in power [would] do anything to protect America… or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?” Laura Ingraham, with her own Fox News prime-time program, said in October that “if you have been watching other networks, you have been treated to sympathetic, overwrought coverage of this invading horde, which is anything but a ‘caravan.'” Ingraham, in the next sentence then referred to the caravan as a “migrant mob,” parroting Trump, who tweeted that “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
A Clear Connection
It is clear that the alleged shooter was influenced by “warnings” from Trump and conservative media of an “invasion” on the southern border, with no sign that such incendiary discourse will abate, even in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting.
Last October, Robert Bowers, the man accused of the fatal shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people, espoused the “invasion” rhetoric disseminated by Trump and conservative media. Bowers had wanted “all Jews to die,” according to law enforcement, and specifically blamed the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a non-profit that assists refugees, for the supposed invasion.
Bowers before the shooting had posted on the social media site Gab, a forum popular with white supremacists and the alt-right, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw you optics, I’m going in.”
He cited a common conspiracy theory that claims Jews in America were responsible for “an invasion of nonwhite immigrants who would slaughter the white race.”
Based on a report from Media Matters for America, a progressive non-profit that monitors conservative misinformation in the U.S. media, Fox News has made more than 70 on-air references to an invasion of migrants, and featured at least 55 clips with Trump calling the surge of migrants an invasion, in 2019 alone. Recently, Trump has placed 2,000 re-election ads with the use of the inflammatory claim of an “invasion” at the southern border, according to a report from the New York Times.
The “online cesspool” that radicalized Bowers, Crusius and others existed before Trump’s presidential campaign, as an April 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated “economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present[ed] unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.”
White supremacist violence, however, has grown under Trump’s presidency, according to a report by Mother Jones, with six mass shootings since last October, including those in El Paso and Pittsburgh, that were influenced by far-right ideology.
Government Response: Past and Present
The threat of white supremacy has been downplayed by the federal government for the last decade—even with U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) recent recognition of white supremacy as a national security threat. With the release of the DHS report, the Obama administration was tepid in response, with former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano releasing a statement that said, “we are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not —nor will we ever— monitor ideology or political beliefs.”
Conservative members of Congress and members of conservative media were critical of the report. Then Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, said “the Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why… her own Department is using [“terrorist”] to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”
The backlash from conservatives in Congress and in media, led to the shuttering of the program responsible for “monitoring sub-sections of the population for potential signs of ideological and political radicalization” (the program was founded in 2004 during the administration of President George W. Bush).
The Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Continues
Conservatives, even in the aftermath of shootings in El Paso and Pittsburgh, continue to ignore the problem. Tucker Carlson, just days after the shooting in El Paso, falsely claimed that white supremacy was a “hoax” a “conspiracy theory,” peddled by Democrats to sow division. Carlson argued, “The combined membership of every white supremacist organization—would they be able to fit into a college football stadium? I mean, seriously. This is a country where the average person is getting poorer, where the suicide rate is spiking.”
Tomi Lahren, a former Fox Nation host, in an appearance on Fox Business show Varney and Co. repeated anti-immigrant rhetoric that had influenced the El Paso shooter. “My goodness, if they want to open our borders, you better be sure the people in Texas, the people in South Dakota, the people in the middle of this country, we are going to be armed and ready, because we have to have a means to defend ourselves from—who knows who’s coming in?” Lahren said. Lahren later apologized for the remarks.
Disgusting, anti-immigrant rhetoric from @TomiLahren in the wake of El Paso.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 13, 2019
Fox News analysts and contributors continue to speak of an “illegal invasion,” which they argue is due to “open borders.” Jeanine Pirro, host of Fox News’ “Justice with Judge Jeanine” spoke of “a Democratic plot to remake America,” on Fox Nation’s The Todd Starnes Show.
“Their plot to remake America is to bring in the illegals, change the way voting occurs in this country, give them licenses. They to get to vote—maybe once, maybe twice, maybe three times,” Pirro said.
“Think about it,” she continued. “It is a plot to remake America. To replace American citizens with illegals who will vote for the Democrats.”
As Fox News continues to amplify the ideological underpinnings of white supremacy, Trump has shown a continued reluctance to condemn outright the threat of white supremacy. In the aftermath of such tragedies in El Paso and Pittsburgh, Trump has continued to offer blanket sympathies. In response to the tragic events in El Paso, he condemned “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy” saying these “sinister ideologies must be defeated.”
Yet it is clear that Trump will never act, and with this nation focusing on possible impeachment, there runs the risk that the latest tragedies and its causes will quickly be forgotten.
Quite simply: we cannot.
Nathaniel Santos Hernández is a graduate of the University of Maine, Orono, with a degree in Anthropology. You can follow him on Twitter @saint_nate12.