EL PASO — Hours after a mass shooter murdered 20 people and wounded 26 others in El Paso, Texas, American Hispanic leaders say some of the blame lies with the anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Donald Trump.
The suspected shooter is believed to have posted a hate-filled manifesto on the anonymous online message board 8chan 45 minutes before the massacre. In it, he claimed “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
The Walmart targeted by the shooter is a well-known shopping destination for Mexican nationals who cross the border, and serves the multicultural community in El Paso. In February, Trump rallied supporters in El Paso, blaming undocumented immigrants for murdering American citizens and driving down wages.
Hispanic leaders say there are chilling parallels between what Trump has said about immigrants and the suspected El Paso shooter’s writings.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, who represents nearby San Antonio and is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said he is worried for his own young children in the wake of the shooting targeting people like his family.
“The President has put a target on the back of the Hispanic community for years now, and there's a cost to that kind of dangerous and racially divisive rhetoric,” Castro said, on the phone from his home in San Antonio. ”If you look at the shooter‘s manifesto, it's consistent with the language that President Trump has used to describe Hispanic immigrants as being part of an invasion of the United States.”
Authorities are reviewing the manifesto, which outlines a plan to terrorize Hispanics so they return to their countries of origin.
The shooter went on to write he had these beliefs before Trump came to power, but Castro said the timing of the attack reinforces his belief that the tone Trump sets with his rhetoric is a contributing factor.
”In that manifesto the guy says, ‘I had these beliefs before Trump.’ I can believe that,” Castro said. “But I also think it's significant that he chose this moment to act upon them. You know, people can be the spark that ignites this kind of racism and targeted action, and that's what this President has done, I believe.”
Domingo Garcia, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told VICE News that the shooter is “paraphrasing President Trump,” in the passages of a manifesto that claim the carnage was in response to an immigrant invasion of the country -- words similar to those Trump has used to describe immigrants.
“He talked about the invasion of the United States,” Garcia said in a phone interview from Dallas. “He talks infestation of immigrants, that rapists and murderers are coming. This young man, whatever his mental state might be, acted on it. And now at least 20 people are dead.”
“The President sets the tone through the rhetoric and the ... hatred and anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic hate speech, and young men like this individual act on it,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to Garcia’s and Castro’s critique of Trump’s rhetoric.
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney deflected blame away from Trump in an interview on ABC. He said Trump is saddened and angry.
“I hate to draw attention to the manifesto, but if you actually go and look at it, what the guy says is he’s felt this way a long time before Donald Trump got elected president,” Mulvaney said. “No politician is to blame for that. The people responsible here are the people who pulled the trigger.”
Garcia, who will travel to El Paso on Sunday morning, is calling on the FBI to set up a special task for to investigate home grown white supremacist terrorists, and said Trump and other Republicans and conservative pundits should tone down their anti-immigrant rhetoric, to avoid inspiring more murders. Castro, meanwhile, said Congress should set up hearings to investigate the shooting.
Trump tweeted Saturday evening, pledging his full support for the people of El Paso.
“Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people,” he wrote. “Melania and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.”
At a press conference featuring Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar and local non-partisan elected officials in the blue-leaning city of El Paso Saturday afternoon, politicians mostly avoided partisan politics.
But Abbott was more interested in talking about mental health, while Escobar said she saw a political connection between the shooting and border rhetoric from the president and Republicans. She promised to speak more on the matter as the investigation was progresses.
Cover: From left, Melody Stout, Hannah Payan, Aaliyah Alba, Sherie Gramlich and Laura Barrios comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)