The president called on Americans in a nationwide address Monday to condemn bigotry but community leaders say his words rang hollow set against a longstanding refusal to call out white supremacy and a history of provocative tweets widely condemned as racist.
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” tweeted Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential hopeful and former congressman who grew up in the city.
“We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
Before striking at a Walmart superstore in El Paso, the 21-year-old suspected gunman, who is white, reportedly posted an online manifesto railing against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Critics pointed out that the language echoed much of Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter and at rallies, where he has frequently framed Hispanic migrants as part of an “invasion.”
Trump has also characterized Mexicans and Central Americans as criminals, gang members and rapists and described the communities of African American lawmakers on several occasions as “infested” with crime and filth.
El Paso congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district includes the area targeted by the gunman, urged Trump “to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this.”
“From my perspective, he is not welcome here,” Escobar told MSNBC. “He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
El Paso mayor Dee Margo, in announcing the visit, stressed that he was welcoming the president because it was his duty to do so.
Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway accused Democrats of politicizing a moment of acute pain while Trump was trying to “bring the country together, heal a nation.”
She was backed by the chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, Adolpho Telles, who defended Trump’s visit but told CNN he needs to be more careful about his language.
In his nationwide address Monday, Trump spoke out against racism but blamed mental illness and the internet for fueling gun violence, sidestepping the fact that other countries with these issues do not have mass shootings.
He had nothing substantial to say about gun control measures, and El Paso residents were unimpressed by the tightly-scripted appeal for unity.
‘He made us a target’
Residents in El Paso told AFP they were fearful of a rise in white nationalism and said Trump was part of the problem.
“I do blame our president. Since the moment he got into office the rhetoric, the hate that he’s got towards people that are just different color skin, he has no right,” said Silvia Rios.
The president began Tuesday apparently irritated by veiled criticism from former president Barack Obama, who warned US leaders against divisive rhetoric.
“We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments,” said Obama, who has only rarely spoken out on public affairs since leaving office in 2017.
In response Trump retweeted a quote from a news anchor on Fox News who said it was inappropriate for a former president to criticize a current one over a shooting.
“President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control,” read the quote from Brian Kilmeade.
Legislation to overhaul gun control under Obama failed in 2013 when the Republican-controlled Senate rejected a ban of assault-style weapons and expanding background checks.
He told the BBC two years later gun control was “the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied.”