On Saturday morning, a gunman at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, shot and killed at least 20 people before surrendering to the police. By all accounts, Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old alleged shooter, is a fan of President Donald Trump and his policies. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a “Twitter account bearing the suspect’s name contains liked tweets that include a ‘BuildTheWall’ hashtag, a photo using guns to spell out ‘Trump,’” and more.
Incredibly, the nation woke up to more grim news on Sunday, with reports that a man suited up in body armor and bearing a rifle with high-capacity magazines had carried out a rampage in Dayton, Ohio, killing at least nine people and injuring 26.
Little is known yet about the Dayton shooter, but a four-page manifesto authorities believe was written by Crusius and posted shortly before the El Paso attack is full of the kind of hateful rhetoric and ideas that have flourished under Trump.
The manifesto declares the imminent attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion,” accuses Democrats of “pandering to the Hispanic voting bloc,” rails against “traitors,” and condemns “race mixing” and “interracial unions.” “Yet another reason to send them back,” it says.
Sound familiar? The president of the United States — who condemned the El Paso attack on Twitter — has repeatedly referred to an “invasion” at the southern border; condemned Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and Syrian refugees as “snakes”; accused his critics of treason on at least two dozen occasions; and told four elected women of color to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” (It is worth noting that Crusius, in his alleged manifesto, claims his views “predate” and are unrelated to Trump but then goes on to attack “fake news.”)
That there could be a link between the attacker and the president should come as no surprise. But it might. Over the past four years, both mainstream media organizations and leading Democrats have failed to draw a clear line between Trump’s racist rhetoric and the steadily multiplying acts of domestic terror across the United States. Some of us tried to sound the alarm — but to no avail.
“Cesar Sayoc was not the first Trump supporter who allegedly tried to kill and maim those on the receiving end of Trump’s demonizing rhetoric,” I wrote last October, in the concluding lines of my column on the arrest of the so-called #MAGAbomber. “And, sadly, he won’t be the last.”
How I wish I could have been proven wrong. Yet since the publication of that piece almost a year ago, which listed the names of more than a dozen Trump supporters accused of horrific violence, from the neo-Nazi murderer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville to the Quebec City mosque shooter, there have been more and more MAGA-inspired attacks. In January, four men were arrested for a plot to attack a small Muslim community in upstate New York — one of them, according to the Daily Beast, “was an avid Trump supporter online, frequently calling for ‘Crooked Hillary’ Clinton to be arrested and urging his followers to watch out for Democratic voter fraud schemes when they cast their ballots for Trump in 2016.”
In March, a far-right gunman murdered 51 Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — and left behind a document describing Muslim immigrants as “invaders” and Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
And now, this latest massacre in El Paso. Let’s be clear: In an age of rising domestic terrorism cases — the majority of which are motivated by “white supremacist violence,” according to FBI Director Christopher Wray — Trump is nothing less than a threat to our collective security. More and more commentators now refer, for example, to the phenomenon of “stochastic terrorism” — originally defined by an anonymous blogger back in 2011 as “the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
Sounds pretty Trumpian, right? As I wrote in October: “The president may not be pulling the trigger or planting the bomb, but he is enabling much of the hatred behind those acts. He is giving aid and comfort to angry white men by offering them clear targets — and then failing to fully denounce their violence.”
And as I pointed out on CNN earlier this year, there is a simple way for Trump to distance himself from all this: Give a speech denouncing white nationalism and the violence it has produced. Declare it a threat to national security. Loudly disown those who act in his name. Tone down the incendiary rhetoric on race, immigration, and Islam.
Trump, however, has done the exact opposite. In March, in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, the president said he did not consider white nationalism to be a rising threat, dismissing it as a “small group of people.” A month earlier, in February, Trump was asked whether he would moderate his language after a white nationalist Coast Guard officer was arrested over a plot to assassinate leading journalists and Democrats. “I think my language is very nice,” he replied.
In recent weeks, the president has again launched nakedly racist and demagogic attacks on a number of black and brown members of Congress, not to mention the black-majority city of Baltimore. When his cultish supporters responded to his attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., with chants of “send her back,” Trump stood and watched and later referred to them as “patriots.”
So we’re supposed to be surprised or shocked that white nationalist violence is rising on his watch? That hate crimes against almost every minority group have increased since his election to the White House in 2016?
On Tuesday, just days before this latest act of terror in El Paso, the leaders of the Washington National Cathedral issued a scathing, and startlingly prescient, rebuke of Trump:
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
Thanks to his hate-filled rhetoric, his relentless incitement of violence, and his refusal to acknowledge the surge in white nationalist terrorism, the president poses a clear and present danger to the people, and especially the minorities, of the United States.