Authorities and experts expect fatal attacks to continue escalating amid an uptick in white nationalist rhetoric.
Shortly before a white gunman shot dead at least 22 people in the border town of El Paso, Texas, an apparent manifesto emerged on the anonymous messaging board 8chan.
“In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto,” the 2,300-word document starts, referring to the man who gunned down 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Saturday’s mass shooting near the country’s border with Mexico, allegedly carried out by 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, was one of 253 like it so far in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In the first four days of August, mass shootings killed at least 33 people.
Authorities believe Crusius made the 10-hour drive from Allen, Texas, to El Paso, a city where Hispanic and Latino residents make up more than 80 percent of the population.
The El Paso mass shooting came only a week after a shooter killed three people and injured 13 after opening fire on the annual garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Right before the attack, the alleged shooter took to social media to praise a late 19th-century book popular among white supremacists.
“Clearly an aspect of what we’re seeing here is that these guys all read each other’s manifestos or social media posts,” said journalist David Neiwert, author of Alt-America and several books on the US radical right.
“We know that because they actually cite those previous manifestos. They are all kind of lining up behind each other,” Neiwert told TRT World, adding that he does not expect the violence to slow down heading toward the 2020 presidential elections.
‘Normalised’ anti-immigrant rhetoric
The alt-right—a loosely knit coalition of white nationalists and neo-Nazis—surged during the lead-up to and aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections.
Although Trump has condemned violence at the hands of white nationalists, critics have alleged that the president has ‘normalised’ anti-immigrant hysteria, citing his administration’s policies designed to crack down on irregular and legal immigration alike.
After the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump insisted that there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists who descended upon the city.
As Trump repeatedly claimed that migrants were “invading” the US during the fall 2018 midterm election campaigning, Robert Bowers allegedly stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and carried out the nation’s deadliest anti-Semitic massacre to date, killing 11 worshippers.
In posts on Gab, a social media outlet popular among far-rightists, the alleged killer had claimed that Jews were behind immigration to the US and actively seeking to undermine the country’s white population.
On April 27, John Timothy Earnest allegedly shot up the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three others. The alleged shooter’s manifesto espoused anti-Semitic ideas and evoked the same “white genocide” conspiracy theory.
Rights groups and watchdogs say these white nationalist-inspired mass shootings are not isolated incidents, and partially blame Trump’s ultra-nationalist rhetoric for what they describe as normalising bigotry.
Jolt Action, a Texas-based progressive Latino organisation, said in a statement that it is “undeniable that Trump has normalised the bigotry and hatred that fuelled this”.
“Despite what white supremacy spews, Latinos aren’t invading Texas,” said Jolt Action’s Interim Executive Director Antonio Arellano. “We’ve always been here, we belong here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
On Sunday, the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) hate monitor issued a statement blasting Trump for “pushing anti-immigrant hate into the mainstream”.
With 2020 presidential election campaigns underway, SPLC’s Bob Hopkinson said in the statement: “[Trump] shows no signs of stopping and is, in fact, doubling down on his efforts to turn the country into an increasingly unwelcome environment for anyone who isn’t white.”
At the time of publication, the White House had not replied to TRT World’s request for comment.
Over the weekend, Trump condemned Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso and another deadly attack in Dayton, Ohio, which killed at least nine people early on Sunday. “God bless the people of El Paso, Texas,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”
The president on Monday proposed stronger gun checks and the death penalty for perpetrators of hate crimes and mass killings. “Today I’m also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively and without years of needless delay.”
But Democrats hoping to oust Trump in the 2020 vote have also criticised his administration for promoting racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“We need to call out white nationalism for what it is—domestic terrorism,” candidate Elizabeth Warren, a US Senator from Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “It is a threat to the United States, and we've seen its devastating toll this weekend. And we need to call out the president himself for advancing racism and white supremacy.”
Addressing Trump on Twitter, progressive presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders wrote: “Mr President: stop your racist, hateful and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Your language creates a climate which emboldens violent extremists.”
Kamala Harris, a US Senator from California, called for action on gun violence.
“Last week it was Gilroy,” Harris tweeted. “Today it’s El Paso. How can our country tolerate this? My prayers are yet again with families who are grieving and my thanks are with the first responders, but that is not enough. We must act.”
Many Republicans, however, buckled down in support of the president. US Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, wrote on Twitter that “we simply don’t have all the answers” for problems like homelessness and mass shootings.
Others condemned the white supremacy behind Saturday’s shootings but fell short of mentioning Trump, his rhetoric or his administration’s immigration policies.
US Senator Ted Cruz, also a Republican from Texas, wrote on Twitter that the El Paso shooting “was a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy”.
Last week, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) published a report documenting a nine percent rise in hate crimes last year in 30 cities around the US.
Based at California State University at Santa Barbara, the CSHE also noted that Jews, African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community constituted minority groups most targeted by hate crimes, in its report.
According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation intelligence bulletin published by Yahoo News last week, conspiracy theories will likely prompt “both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts”, a phenomenon the Bureau expects to surge even more during the election season.