As President Trump headed to El Paso for a “healing” visit to console the border city after Saturday’s mass shooting, residents in a local park were ready for him, calling out a familiar chant.
“Send him back!” dozens gathered at Washington Park chanted Wednesday afternoon, riffing off the chant at Trump's recent campaign rally in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar. The protesters assembled at the park around noon armed with signs and decked in anti-Trump accessories to speak out against the president's racist rhetoric and his refusal to admit any part in enabling the growth of white supremacy in the U.S.
Trump's facing widespread criticism for his racist rhetoric, after the man who killed 22 people in an El Paso Walmart Saturday morning posted a hate-filled screed minutes before the massacre, echoing the president's repeated references to immigrants as an "invasion."
But in the majority-Hispanic border city of El Paso, his comments are taken very personally. His history of bad-mouthing Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants has never been received well there. In 2016, Trump lost El Paso in the general election nearly two to one, according to the Washington Post. It was the lowest performance of any major presidential candidate in recent history. Trump once again inflamed locals back in February when he held a campaign rally in El Paso and falsely claimed crime there was on the rise — plus, he failed to reimburse the city the rally’s $470,000 price tag.
Even as word of Trump’s visit made the rounds in El Paso, elected officials and activists in the city were resistant. Women’s March organizer Lyda Ness-Garcia told the Daily Beast that Trump was “not welcome in our community.” Two different petitions on Change.org have asked that local hospitals treating victims of Sunday’s shooting turn the president away during his visit. They both had over 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier this week, El Paso elected officials asked Trump to denounce the kind of bigotry that he’s enabled since the inception of his presidential campaign in 2015.
“If the President fails to strongly condemn this racially-motivated terrorist attack and fails to call for an end to the use of violence against minority groups by radicalized white nationalist terrorists during his visit, his continued depiction of immigrants and migrants as a threat to our nation will only place our community at greater risk for racially-motivated attacks," El Paso city councilwoman Claudia Ordaz Perez and County Commissioner Vincent Perez said in a joint statement.
Trump clearly doesn't feel the same. Earlier Wednesday, when asked what part his anti-immigration comments might have played in the shootings, he downplayed his role altogether.
“No, I don’t think my rhetoric has at all,” the president told reporters outside the White House Wednesday morning. “I think my rhetoric brings people together. Our country is doing incredibly well.”
The president’s visit to El Paso was one of two stops he made Wednesday. Before landing in El Paso, Trump paid a visit to Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman killed nine people on Sunday.
Cover: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at El Paso International Airport to meet with people affected by the El Paso mass shooting, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)