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Something wrong, Mr Trump? In the wake of yet another massacre, El Paso

Wednesday, 21 August 2019  | Mersina Papantoniou

On the morning of 3rd August, a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso,[1] Texas, a town comprising of over 75% Hispanics.[2] While there has been a sharp spike in gun violence, 251 mass shootings in 216 days,[3] the overt or covert racist underpinnings of this mass shooting need to be examined.

El Paso (literally ‘the passage’ in Spanish) is a Texan border town, corresponding with another town on the Mexican side of the border, Juárez Ciudad. El Paso was taken over by Texas in 1846, along with other former Mexican territories that were ceded by the United States. The border has featured a somewhat porous state-line where Mexicans from neighbouring towns could shop for back-to-school items from a major department store at El Paso on the other side of the border through check-points.

President Trump’s condolence speech read at 10.09am (US time) on 5th August 2019 featured the line: 'mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun',[4] as well as the begrudging condemnation of white supremacy as the some of the causes of this latest massacre. This was a change in tone and language from his description of the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August 2017 that featured his infamous characterisation that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’.[5] On a note of correction, in his televised condolence speech on the El Paso massacre, the President incorrectly referred to ‘Toledo’ instead of ‘El Paso’.[6]

The next day, at 5.01am (US time), former President Obama also issued a tweet, citing internet platforms fanning race hate/white supremacy and the need for various policing agencies to be ‘accelerated’ into action. It was a clearly written, clearly communicated clarion call with no confusion or double entendre regarding the message.[7] The El Paso slayings have energised the growing ‘accelerationist’ bloc of the white power movement, which argues that violence is the only way to achieve its goal of creating a white, non-Jewish ethnostate.[8]

What confounds our thinking is that the El Paso shooter,[9] in his manifesto wrote about ‘the Hispanic invasion of Texas’, citing the views of the Christchurch shooter, stated that President Trump ‘was not to blame’.[10] Chillingly, he even praised Trump as ‘a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose’.[11] An unholy union.

This is not ‘fake news’

Upon the President’s visit to El Paso in the aftermath of the shootings, a photo opportunity reveals the President and First lady with baby Paul, both of whose parents, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, died protecting their baby in the shootings. The infant escaped with broken fingers shielded by his Mother on top of him with the dead father nearby.[12] For many, Trump’s rhetoric regarding ‘Mexicans’, ‘invasion’ and ‘the big beautiful wall’ appear to be amplifying a ‘whitelash’ of entitlement.

There is an eerie double-message signal from the President regarding the photo. What does the thumbs-up mean, and for whom is this signal? The question again remains: How much is racist rhetoric to blame for hate-crimes, especially when moral leadership comes from the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the President?
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words...’

Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric began prior to his election in 2016, with comments like ‘I could shoot somebody and not lose voters’ on 24 January of that year.[13] His rhetoric since election has emboldened religious ‘white’ supremacists, even amongst Evangelicals. The raison d’être resides in the construction of Christian nationalism or ‘make America Christian again’. Christian nationalism generates a ‘metanarrative’ for a religiously distinct, national identity.[14]

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has produced ‘Hate Maps’, including Texas, that indicate an increased incidence of various ‘hate’ groups since 2018.[15]

‘Race Matters’ – Cornel West

The President’s unabashed race-baiting has been evident by whipping up pre-election hysteria at May 2019 rallies. He answered the call of ‘shoot them’ from the audience with,

“… only in the Panhandle, you can get away with that statement [pauses for cheers, hoorahs] only in the Pan-handle” (referring to Florida).

His non-admonishing of the remark is palpable for all to see.[16] President Trump’s repeated use of the word ‘invasion’ is cited within the unsigned manifesto, The Inconvenient Truth, authored by the 21-year- old El Paso shooter,[17] who also cited the ‘replacement’ conspiracy theory from the manifesto of the Christchurch shooter.[18]
‘Merit’ or ‘Entitlement’? Imploding from within

No matter what your political persuasion, ‘love him’ or loathe’ him, Trump’s rhetoric cuts through. It is ‘invasive’ and most importantly mollycoddles a disgruntled, ‘possessively-entitled’ ‘white’, religious, Sunday-attending, Evangelical religious cohort (81%)[19] that is the backbone of his unwavering support. It continues with roughly seven-in-ten white US evangelical Protestants (69%) approving of the way Trump is handling his job as President.[20] This includes his own inner-circle of predominantly white, Evangelical Advisory Board that includes Franklin Graham, son of the late Evangelist Billy Graham. Franklin actively campaigned for Donald Trump in 2016.[21]

Unfortunately, fast-forward three years and it is revealed that ‘Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes’.[22] It is noted that:

… research shows it is far more likely that hate crime statistics are considerably lower because of underreporting.

Additionally, it is hard to discount a ‘Trump effect’ when a considerable number of these reported hate crimes reference Trump. According to the ADL’s 2016 data, these incidents included vandalism, intimidation and assault.

What’s more, according to the FBI’s Universal Crime report in 2017, reported hate crimes increased 17 percent over 2016.[23]

Yet in research pre-dating the El Paso shooting, Pew Centre Research published in July warned about pending violence from toxic political debate. Revealingly, more than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (85%) agreed that political debate in the country has become more negative and less respectful. About three-quarters (76%) said it has become less fact-based and 60% said it has become less focused on issues. A further 78% of respondents acknowledged that heated rhetoric raises risk of violence.[24]

Cited from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/18/americans-say-the-nations-political-debate-has-grown-more-toxic-and-heated-rhetoric-could-lead-to-violence/.

A Question of leadership?

Were the moral standards e.g. character, for the Office of President, under the first African-American Mr Obama, required the same of Mr Trump? The answer of course, is ‘no’. Yet Donald Trump remarked in December 2015 that he is an ‘evangelical’.[25]

However, the jump from Obama to Trump, could not contrast more vividly. Trump continues with his derogatory, denigratory descriptions of coloured minorities/women and or all of the above. In what appears to be a ‘hotter than July’ 2019 (borrowing an album title of Stevie Wonder), his vitriol has extended to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a long-time proponent of the Civil Rights movement – only the Reverend was not prepared ‘to turn the other cheek’ and gave as good as he got:

“… If he really thought I was a conman he’d be nominating me for his cabinet.”[26]

Trump’s rhetoric, whilst ‘scratching the itching ears’ of his voter base, belies another uncomfortable issue, even for blue-blooded evangelicals: his view of women.

The woman problem

What appears to rankle President Trump (besides ‘crooked Hilary’) are four women also known as ‘The Squad’ visibly from ’ethnic’ coloured minorities. They are Democrat Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (African-American descent), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Puerto Rican descent), Rashida Tlaib (Palestinian descent) and former Somali-born refugee Ilhan Omar (also a Muslim). Trump’s pre-election, 2020 posturing in the southern state of North Carolina remarked that these women were not ‘capable of loving our country’[27] and should ‘go back to where they came from’. At his mid-July election rallies at Greenville, North Carolina, when the audience called out ‘send her back’ in relation to Omar, President Trump let the rant continue unabated and did not bring a sense of balance to the hyped-up crowd.[28]

His unashamed response not only dismissed the Congresswomen who are American citizens, but also the constituents they represent:

Who will take on the bully?

‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required’ (KJV Luke 12:48). Those on whom much depends will be the church-going, female Evangelicals eligible to vote in 2020. It’s becoming obvious that President Trump has begun a relentless racist campaign for his re-election.[29] Once again, his 2020 re-election strategy appears to be one of courting the ‘white’ vote. However, ‘the wild card’ may well be the Republican, evangelical women, ‘black, white or brindle’.

That is, if they vote differently to their men.

Mersina Papantoniou's PhD was entitled Multiculturalism’s challenge to Sydney Anglican Identity. Her research interests are the respective evolution/mutation of Postmodernism, Neoliberalism and Evangelicalism, and the place, and/or (non-)place of religion/social responsibility in the Public Sphere.

[1] The article has been researched with an emphasis on the El Paso shooting, although the Dayton, Ohio, shooting also occurred on the same day.

[2] Miller, C. H. S. (2019, August 05). ‘El Paso Massacre Galvanizes Accelerationists.’ Retrieved 13/08/2019, from https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/08/05/el-paso-massacre-galvanizes-accelerationists.

[3] (2019, 13 August). ‘251 mass shootings in 216 days.’ Retrieved 14/08/2019, from https://info.commondreams.org/acton/rif/33231/s-069b-1908/-/l-sf-lead-0014:19297/q-004f/showPreparedMessage?sid=TV2:ODplA1LpR.

[4] (2019, August 5). ‘“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun”: Trump on El Paso and Dayton shootings.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBLAipvuhNs.

[5] (2017, August 16). ‘President Trump answers questions on Charlottesville.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzGEyn4RhD8.

[6] Wagner, M., E. Hammond, M. Hayes and V. Rocha. (2019, August 6). ‘At least 31 killed in US weekend mass shootings.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://edition.cnn.com/us/live-news/el-paso-dayton-shootings-august-2019/h_f1f16bd66f612d6a8364eed1032c7631.

[7] Edelman, A. (2019, August 6). ‘In veiled shot at Trump, Obama urges rejection of leaders who feed 'climate of fear and hatred'.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/barack-obama/veiled-shot-trump-obama-urges-rejection-leaders-who-feed-climate-n1039401.

[8] Miller, C. H. S. (2019, August 05). ‘El Paso Massacre Galvanizes Accelerationists.’ Retrieved 13/08/2019, from https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/08/05/el-paso-massacre-galvanizes-accelerationists.

[9] My preference is to not name him, only as a footnote he is 21 year old Patrick Wood Crusius, who identified via his manifesto and later Affidavit that he came to the town to ‘kill Mexicans’.

[10] Crusius, P. (2019, 05 August). ‘The Inconvenient Truth Manifesto.’ Politika Retrieved 6/08/2019, from https://grabancijas.com/patrick-crusius-manifesto-the-inconvenient-truth/.

[11] Tarrant, B. ‘The Great Replacement.’ Retrieved 17/03/19.

[12] (2019, August 4). ‘They died shielding their infant son from gunfire.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0op7fRbxSW8 .

[13] (2016, January 24). ‘Trump: I could shoot somebody and not lose voters.’ Retrieved 3/10/18, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTACH1eVIaA.

[14] Kuruvilla, C. (2018, April 5). ‘Researchers Discover Common Thread Among Christians Who Voted For Trump.’ Politics Retrieved 30/09/18, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/researchers-discover-common-thread-between-evangelicals-who-voted-for-trump_us_5abbd15ae4b04a59a313c5ea. See also: Whitehead, A. L., S. L. Perry and J. O. Baker (2018, January). ‘Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.’ Sociology of Religion 79(2): 147–171.

[15] See accessed 13/08/2019. https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map?ideology=white-nationalist and https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map?state=TX. ‘Hate Maps’ are also published by the Anti-Defamation League: (2019, June). ‘H.E.A.T. Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism map data (HEAT map).’ Retrieved 13/08/2019, from https://www.adl.org/education-and-resources/resource-knowledge-base/adl-heat-map.

[17] Baker, P. and M. D. Shear. (2019, August 4). ‘El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Trump’s Language.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/04/us/politics/trump-mass-shootings.html.

[18] Then theory, held by extreme right wing movements e.g. Alt-Right, Identitarian, ‘believers’ deem ‘Muslims’ are replacing the ‘white’ race in regards to the construction of pluralistic societies. Tarrant, B. ‘The Great Replacement.’ Retrieved 17/03/19.

[19] Smith, G. A. and J. Martínez. (2016, November 9). ‘How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis.’ Retrieved 3/04/18, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/.

[20] Schwadel, P. and G. A. Smith. (2019, March 18). ‘Evangelical approval of Trump remains high, but other religious groups are less supportive.’ Facts in the Numbers Retrieved 07/08/2019, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/03/18/evangelical-approval-of-trump-remains-high-but-other-religious-groups-are-less-supportive/.

[21] Goodstein, L. (2018, February 26). ‘Billy Graham Warned Against Embracing A President. His Son Has Gone Another Way.’ Retrieved 3/04/18, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/26/us/billy-graham-franklin-graham-trump.html.

[23] Feinberg, A., R. Branton and V. Martinez-Ebers. ( 2019, March 22). ‘Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226% rise in hate crimes.’ Retrieved 06/08/19, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/03/22/trumps-rhetoric-does-inspire-more-hate-crimes/.

[24] Drake, B. and J. Kiley. (2019, July 18). ‘Americans say the nation’s political debate has grown more toxic and ‘heated’ rhetoric could lead to violence ‘ Facttank Retrieved 12/08/2019, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/18/americans-say-the-nations-political-debate-has-grown-more-toxic-and-heated-rhetoric-could-lead-to-violence/.

[25] Giaritelli, A. (2015, December 12). ‘Trump: I'm an evangelical, Cruz is Cuban.’ Retrieved 20/09/18, from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/trump-im-an-evangelical-cruz-is-cuban.

[26] (2019, July 30). ‘Al Sharpton: Trump 'has a particular venom for blacks and people of colour'.’ Retrieved 07/08/2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=101&v=pxKfk0AjoE8.

[27] Swaine, J. (2019, 22 July). ‘Trump renews racist attack on Squad: 'They're not capable of loving the US'.’ Retrieved 06/08/2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/21/trump-racist-squad-democrats-omar-ocasio-cortez-tlaib-pressley.

[28] (2019, July 19). ‘Trump crowd chants 'send her back' to Ilhan Omar ‘ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nbnReq2C_4.

[29] VandeHei, J. and M. Allen. (2019, July 17). ‘Trump's premeditated racism is central to his 2020 strategy.’ Retrieved 06/08/2019, from https://www.axios.com/donald-trump-racist-tweets-2020-presidential-election-d531e17d-aa83-4544-9a50-54e8c939ed03.html. See also: Glasser, S. B. (2019, July 19). ‘"I’m Winning": Donald Trump’s Calculated Racism.’ Retrieved 8/08/2019, from https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/im-winning-donald-trumps-calculated-racism.

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