After two mass shootings rocked the nation over the weekend, Democrats cited President Trump’s caustic rhetoric on immigration as a contributing cause of the tragedies, which combined killed 29 people.
On Saturday, a 21-year-old gunman opened fire on a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 people and injuring 26 others. Less than 24 hours later, another young male shooter used an assault-style rifle to kill nine people, including his own sister, and injure 27 in a Dayton, Ohio entertainment district.
The El Paso shooter left behind a racist manifesto that expressed hatred toward immigrants and condemned a Hispanic “invasion” of the country, using a word the president has previously employed to describe the thousands of undocumented immigrants who traveled in caravans to the U.S.-Mexico border, although the shooter said his beliefs predate Trump.
“You look at what is marching up, that is an invasion!” Trump said at a rally last year.
Former congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who represented El Paso and is running for president, blamed Trump directly for encouraging the mindset that caused the shooting.
“Let’s be very clear about what is causing this and who the president is: He is an open, avowed racist and encouraging more racism in this country,” O’Rourke said. “He doesn’t even pretend to respect our differences or understand we are all created equal. He is saying some people are inherently defective.”
Other contenders for the Democratic nomination warned about the president’s “white nationalist” rhetoric as well.
“There’s no question white nationalism is condoned at the highest levels of our government,” said South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“When you have the president, from the highest moral office in our land, talking about invasions and infestations and sh**hole countries — the kinds of things that come out of his mouth that so harm the moral fabric of our nation — he is responsible,” Senator Cory Booker said. “He’s responsible when he has taken no action whatsoever to even condemn white supremacy.”
“There’s one person that’s responsible directly for that shooting in El Paso, and that’s the shooter,” said former secretary of housing and urban development Julián Castro, another Democratic presidential candidate. “At the same time, as our national leader, you have a role to play in either fanning the flames of division or trying to bring Americans of different backgrounds together. This president very early on made a choice to divide people for his own political benefit, and these are some of the consequences that we’re seeing of that.”
In the wake of the shootings, Trump called for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation on background checks as well as address the country’s “mental illness problem.”
“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain,” he wrote Monday on Twitter. “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”
“Hate has no place in our country, and we’re going to take care of it,” Trump said.
Since taking office, Trump has taken action to ban bump stocks, devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to function similarly to an automatic one, and has called for tightening the background-check system for gun purchases.