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Hispanics as targets of hate: the role of Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric in the El Paso massacre

The FBI is analyzing a racist manifesto of more than 2,400 words posted on the Internet, just minutes before the El Paso massacre, by the alleged attacker, a white 21-year-old male. The document includes concepts that seem to have come straight out of President Trump's rhetoric. Some critics are now holding his caustic anti-immigrant rhetoric as patly responsible for motivating the largest mass murder of Hispanics in U.S. history.
5 Ago 2019 – 04:44 PM EDT
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Residents of El Paso, Texas, pay tribute to the victims of the shooting on Saturday, August 3, at a Walmart store frequented by Hispanics. Crédito: John Locher/AP

“This attack was a reply to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” said a racist manifesto published just minutes before a 21-year-old white man kille 20 people Saturday in El Paso. He was arrested, and the FBI believes the shooter was the author of the document.

Investigators are pouring over the 2,400-word text attributed to the attacker, which reproduces concepts that appear to have come straight out of the rhetoric of President Trump, held responsible for the massacre by many people because of what they view as the motivation provided by his caustic anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The text refers to an “invasion” in exactly the same terms used constantly by the president when he talks about the caravans of Central American immigrants headed for the US border, as well as immigrants who cross into the United States illegally.

A Trump Tweet in October of 2018 appeared to warn the “invaders” that they would be fired on by the US troops he had recently deployed to the border with Mexico.

“Many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan that is headed to the southern border ... This is an invasion of our country and our military is waiting for you!” he wrote.

Days later, speaking from the White House, he reinforced the warning, saying that if immigrants “want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle ... when they throw rocks."

One of the first to complain about the similarities in president's language and the manifesto published just before the El Paso massacre was Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democratic presidential candidate.

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Lo que se sabe del sospechoso del tiroteo en un centro comercial en El Paso, Texas

“When Donald Trump uses words like infestation, invasion and shithole countries, when he refuses to condemn neonazis and white supremacists ... Trump is issuing a license for this type of violence. He is responsible,” Booker wrote on his Twitter account.

That same complaint was voiced by Beto O'Rourke, another presidential hopeful and Democratic member of Congress until 2010, representing the district that includes El Paso.

“Trump's racism doesn't just offend our sensibilities. It funtamentally changes the charachter of this country. And it leads to violence,” wrote O'Rourke, who suspended his campaign and returned to the border city.

The White House has rejected the allegations. It argues that the mass shootings have been going on for decades, that the president is not responsible for them and that the El Paso and Dayton massacres one day later were the work of mentally disturbed people.

“This is a mental health issue,” Donald Trump told reporters Sunday after Air Force One landed in Washington. He did not use the words used by officials investigating the massacres, such as “domestic terrorism” or “hate crime,” and made no mention of the military-style weapons used in the attacks.

The El Paso killer “was a sick person. The person in Dayton was a sick person. No politician is responsible for that. The person responsible here is the one who pulled the trigger,” Interim White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said during a television interview Sunday.

It cannot be said that the president is directly and personally calling for actions against minority groups, but his words can work as a “code” that incentivizes supporters to “help” their leader “Make America Great Again” -- which some people could interpret as “Make America White Again.”

Trump immediately condemned the El Paso attack as an act of “cowardice” and expressed his condolences for the victims and their families on his Twitter account, the same method he uses to attack his foes, real or imagined, with an aggressive rhetoric that some people say it incites to violence.

Troublesome rhetoric

The president was criticized harshly recently for telling four members of the US Congress to “go back where you came from,” even though all four women are US citizens and three of them were born in the United States.

He was warned that his racist messages could be taken as a call for violence against the Congress members, but Trump replied that “a lot of people agree with me.”

And that's the problem with Trump's rhetoric. He does not accept responsibility for or does not understand the climate that his works can create.

An ABC News report in November found 17 cases of violence against minorities in which Trump's rhetoric was cited as a motivating factor by the attackers -- all of them white men, most of them young.

The report was based on court documents in which the accused acknowledged their sympathy for Trump's rhetoric -- some of the cases go back to 2015 and 2016 -- and how it inspired them to express their opposition to immigrants they assumed to be undocumented or minorities.

A Pew poll from October found that Hispanics have become more pessimistic about their place in America; 54% of Latinos said that it has become more difficult to live in the U.S. as a Latino in the last few years.

"Not only have all El Pasoans been traumatized by the shootings, Latinos have more reason to feel that living in the Trump era amounts to living under a state of siege," El Paso attorney, Raul A. Reyes, wrote in USA Today.

Lost opportunities

During a Trump rally in Panama City Beach in Florida's Panhandle, Trump was talking about an “invasion” of immigrants when he asked, “How do you stop those people?” Someone in the crowd shouted, “Shoot them!”

Another politician might have immediately condemned the comment, but Trump only smiled and said, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that comment.”

The president did not approve of the comment, but he did not condemn it either, and missed the opportunity to use his podium to warn against turning words and political differences into violence. It was clear the president was not going to admonish anyone for an outburst of that kind. SPANISH IS MISSING A NO

The Trump White House has been especially weak when it comes to condemning racism and trying to overcome the divisions in US society, which his predecessors have worked on regardless of their political parties.

Instead, he declared that there were “good people” on both sides of a clash between human rights activists and neonazis who chanted racist and anti-semitic slogans during a 2017 march in Charlottesville, Va., reaching for a moral equivalence that is impossible.

During the 2016 electoral campaign Trump also did not distance himself from David Duke after the former Ku Klux Klan leader voiced his enthusiastic support for the Republican presidential candidate.

Trump first lied and said he had never heard of Duke, even though the white supremacist had been well known for years. Only after five days of public pressure did he announce that he was “disavowing” any connection between his campaign and Duke.

Whether or not there was a formal connection, the former KKK leader made it clear that there was a spiritual communion between his cause and the presidential candidate, saying he was satisfied that “the white man's problems” were being openly debated.

Enmerson Buir, in charge of the FBI office in El Paso, said Sunday that the US Department of Justice is handling the massacre as a hate crime and a case of domestic terrorism, aside from the murder and other charges the attacker will face.

It is expected that the shooter may be able to provide precise information about his motivations for killing 20 people.

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