Advertisement

Donald Trump visits El Paso despite calls for him to stay away as he stands accused of inflaming hatred behind attack

A woman stands at a memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Credit: AP

When President Trump touched down in El Paso to meet some of those injured in the supermarket massacre and the emergency workers who were first on the scene, he saw first-hand the impact of the uniquely American form of violent racism which appears to have motivated Saturday’s attack.

In Texas, as in his earlier visit to Dayton, Ohio, the scene of another deadly attack, Mr Trump took on the role of consoler-in-chief, as America’s commanders-in-chief traditionally do following a terrorist attack or major atrocity.

But this time it was different, because the President is himself accused of inflaming the very hatred behind this latest attack.

Many of his opponents had urged him not to come.

Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted: “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”

And the mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo, went to great lengths to emphasise that meeting Trump was simply a requirement of his job, as he vowed to “challenge any harmful and inaccurate statements”.

US President Donald Trump addresses the media following two mass shootings in the country hours apart. Credit: AP

When viewed from the campaign trail or even the presidential podium, anti-immigrant rhetoric might feel like just words; when seen from this Texan city in the middle of the desert, things look quite different - a matter of life and death.

It took almost 48 hours for Trump to publicly acknowledge that white supremacism played a role in the massacre.

And even though his remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House were interpreted by some as a turning point in the way he treats this issue, that analysis seems to underplay the fact that racism was only one of several factors he listed, including mental health, social media and video games.

White supremacy is a global problem.

Intelligence agencies in some countries, including the UK, are taking the far-right threat more seriously.

There are parallels with what some officials observed during the rise of Islamic State: the toxic mix of a defined "enemy", a shared grievance, a fear of "invaders" and a military narrative encouraged on social media.

People crowd around a makeshift memorial at the scene of the mass shooting in El Paso,Texas. Credit: AP

From Christchurch, to Charlottesville, there are parallels which make so-called "white nationalism" an almost homogenous, international movement.

What links so many white supremacists across the world is the shared theoretical fig leaf of the "Great Replacement" ideology which argues white people are being extinguished by ethnic minorities.

It is referenced in the El Paso suspect’s "manifesto" but was also linked to the mosque massacre in New Zealand in March and South Africa’s deluded "white genocide" myth.

But despite the global nature of this movement, extremists in every country find a local poster boy to galvanise their hateful cause.

It’s often a shadowy figure with a big social media following who might be reluctant to have been given that status.

In the United States, that poster boy is the President.

White supremacists see him as being on their side.

So what can Trump now do to confront the form of extremism he has encouraged?

People attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the El Paso shooting. Credit: AP

Officials and analysts believe he could divert more of the vast resources of America’s national security apparatus towards the threat of the far-right.

But many conclude that the President would see more immediate results by emphatically and specifically rejecting white supremacy while in El Paso, and apologising for some of his past comments which have encouraged extremists.

Of course he might believe many of those past comments were not extreme or racist.

That doesn’t matter.

White supremacists are still speaking the president’s language.

And in El Paso that talking turned to killing.