In El Paso, Texas, on Monday night, President Donald Trump responded to the March for Truth — a protest against his false claims about the city led by its most famous resident, Beto O’Rourke — by lying about it.
In remarks transmitted live and uncorrected by news networks, Trump claimed that a crowd of about 13,000 supporters at his rally in the city numbered, “let’s say 35,000 people,” while the march addressed by O’Rourke had drawn, at most, “300 people.” El Paso’s police department estimated that the number of protesters was in fact between 10,000 and 15,000.
El Paso police estimate a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 for the anti-Trump, anti-wall, pro-O’Rourke march and rally tonight.— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) February 12, 2019
Beto O'Rourke, staging a Trump counter-rally, says El Paso is "safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Securre, because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way we make our communities and our country safe." Via Texas Tribune pic.twitter.com/YSdQTeKiXn— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 12, 2019
While skeptics following events online could find out the truth, networks like ABC shared Trump’s entirely false claims on social networks with no indication that they were untrue, suggesting that a core error in coverage of his 2016 campaign looks set to be repeated for 2020.
“He has long since figured out something important, and perhaps dangerous,” Ray Suarez, the veteran broadcaster, observed on Twitter about Trump’s willingness to lie. “He knows it doesn’t really matter if he tells the truth about the O’Rourke crowd, or his own. By tomorrow morning, who’s going to care beyond those who already care? He may gain little, but loses nothing.”
Video of O’Rourke’s 22-minute speech, shared by the potential candidate for the presidency, showed that thousands of marchers had indeed crowded onto a baseball diamond across from the arena where the president’s rally took place, to hear their former member of Congress call out Trump’s lies about the city’s crime rate.
Far from being a city saved from violent crime only by the construction of a border wall in 2008, as Trump had falsely claimed during his State of the Union speech, O’Rourke stressed that El Paso’s crime rate had already plummeted before the partial barrier was constructed.
As Bob Moore and Carlos Sanchez reported for the Texas Tribune, Trump opened his speech, beneath banners reading “Finish the Wall,” with the blatant lie that construction of a border wall along the Texas-Mexico border was underway. “I don’t know if you heard, right, today we started a big, beautiful wall right on the Rio Grande, right smack on the Rio Grande,” Trump claimed, falsely. When the president’s supporters launched into the familiar chant, “Build the wall,” the former real estate developer invited them to pretend along with him: “You mean, ‘Finish the wall.'”
Trump starts his first rally of 2019 by bragging, "I don't know if you heard -- today we started a big beautiful wall." (Congress has in fact appropriated 0 dollars for Trump's wall.)— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 12, 2019
He then goads the crowd into booing the assembled media. pic.twitter.com/MKf33Myyn3
Trump later continued his long-running war on observable reality by claiming, without evidence, that El Paso’s Republican mayor had manipulated the FBI statistics that showed a sharp drop in violent crime before the construction of the barrier.
The president’s attempt to clear a path for his lies by attacking the media once again incited his supporters to such hostility that one even attacked a cameraperson for the BBC.
Just attended my first ?@realDonaldTrump? rally where my colleague BBC cameraman Rob Skeans was attacked by a Trump supporter. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night #TrumpElPaso pic.twitter.com/Oiw8osPms3— Eleanor Montague (@EleanorMontague) February 12, 2019
Trump supporters, desperate to combat credible reports from journalists on the ground, and the crowd-size estimates of local fire and police officials, resorted to circulating screenshots of the protest taken nearly an hour after O’Rourke’s speech ended.
People keep posting this to photo to ”prove” Beto’s crowd was small. Truth is, all those people on stage were up there 45 mins to an hr AFTER Beto spoke and a lot of people had left by then. I have no reason to lie. That is the truth. So to compare is deceiving. pic.twitter.com/ujlgONGooH— Ivan Pierre Aguirre (@i_p_a_1) February 12, 2019
Trump’s attempt to gaslight the nation about his popularity in El Paso relative to that of O’Rourke was clearly pre-planned, since his lie about the rival protest march drawing only a few hundred people was promoted before his speech by both his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and his son, Donald Trump Jr. — who introduced his father by falsely claiming that “about 200 people” were at the “Beto rally,” and then posted a photograph of what he said was a crowd of 35,000 waiting for the president to speak.
Even before leaving the White House for El Paso, Trump had hinted that his decision to hold his first campaign rally of the year in O’Rourke’s hometown on the Mexican border was at least partly an attempt to show up a potential rival. Hours before the rally, Trump bragged, “We have a line that is very long already. … And I understand our competitor’s got a line too, but it’s a tiny little line.”
Trump taunts Beto: "We have a line that is very long already, I'm mean you see what's going on. And I understand our competitor's got a line too, but it's a tiny little line. Of course [the media] make it sound like they have more people than we do. That's not going to happen." pic.twitter.com/puTLJXwLcU— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) February 12, 2019