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El Paso's GOP, Democratic Parties Divided over Impact of Trump's Rhetoric on Shooting

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

By Michael Hernandez Aug 15, 2019 Last night, a community memorial service was held at Southwest University Park for the victims of the El Paso shooting. While the service was a time for healing, last week the leaders of El Paso's Democratic and Republican parties expressed very different views about President Donald Trump and the role of his political rhetoric. Michael Hernandez reports.

In another showing of solidarity, El Pasoans attended a memorial service for the victims shot and killed at a Walmart in early August.

The alleged shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, faces capital murder charges and county prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Crusius told police he had specifically targeted Mexicans in the attack.

In a screed posted online before the shooting, Crusius claimed his attack was a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The shooter’s language mirrors President Trump’s warnings of an immigrant “invasion” at the U.S.-Mexico border, which he has cited numerous times on social media and at campaign rallies.

At a Florida rally in May, some of Trump’s supporters echoed his tone. When Trump asked how to stop migrants from crossing into the United States, a rallygoer yelled "Shoot them!" Trump laughed and joked "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff.”

Some of Trump’s opponents, including 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, argue that his words embolden white supremacists to commit racially-motivated acts of violence. El Paso County Republican Party Chair Adolpho Telles contends the outrage over President Trump deals more with the issue of immigration than with Trump’s comments.

“The President has historically identified illegal immigration as a serious issue, as a crisis, and it took our local politicians a year-and-a-half before they recognized that it really is a crisis," Telles said.

As for whether Trump’s comments incite violence, Telles said many politicians say things that he finds incendiary, and while Trump may outrage some with his comments, he is not responsible for actual violence.

“He's not responsible. We've got radical people in this country that are going to do things that are not acceptable to the majority of us. But we're not responsible," Telles said.

Hundreds attended protest held during Trump’s visit to an El Paso hospital. Local and national officials called on Trump to cancel the trip, including El Paso County Democratic Chair Iliana Holguin.

Holguin told the PBS NewsHour she and others hold Trump responsible for the increase in language demonizing immigrant communities.

“You heard some of those phrases being used by this person in that essay that he posted just minutes before he opened fire here in El Paso," Holguin said. "So really, we feel that the President has to acknowledge that his language has played a role in what happened. His words have consequences and here in El Paso we learned that on Saturday that his words have very, very severe consequences that can change a community.”

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke said that Trump’s comments on migrants had “a lot to do” with the shooting. At the protest, El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar said the community will not stop resisting hate and racism.

“There have been words that have been used to dehumanize all of us—our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our family, our communities. There have been words that have been powerful and painful and full of hate and full of bigotry and full of racism and those words are still out there. And until all of us demand that those words be taken back, we will not stop," Escobar said.

In a scripted speech after the shooting, Trump said the U.S. “must condemn bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy.” But that message rang hollow for some critics after Trump’s comments in Charlottesville that there were “very fine people on both sides" of the white supremacist rally.

Holguin said while the President didn’t directly encourage the shooter, Trump’s language contributed to his actions.

“He stokes that hatred and that anger that we know that white supremacists already feel towards about a community like ours. So, he may not have directly played a role in putting a gun into the shooter’s hand, but he certainly encourages people with white supremacist views. He certainly condones it," Holguin said.

El Paso County Republican Chair Telles added that he doesn’t always agree with Trump’s rhetoric.

"I do think he uses some strong language on people. You know I don't like the name-calling when he called all of the candidate’s different names. But he does that. He gives everybody a nickname. That's him. Do I agree with that? No. But that's what he does," Telles said. "He did it before, he continues to do it and I think he's going to do it in the future."

As long as white supremacists find common cause with the President’s rhetoric, some say immigrant communities may worry about the potential for future memorials.

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Paid for by Carmen Duarte, Treasurer, 4615 Bonds Ct. El Paso, TX 79903