Hundreds sang, chanted and toted signs at a rally in El Paso, Texas, to protest white supremacy, demand gun control and make it clear that they were not pleased President Donald Trump was in town.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday was met with fierce pushback as he visited two cities where gunmen killed dozens of innocent people.
The president landed in El Paso, Texas, where a self-declared white supremacist murdered 22 people last weekend at a Walmart heavily frequented by customers of Hispanic origin.
The White House billed the visits as opportunities to unite Americans after the tragedies. However, many of those who gathered in the popular nightlife area where the mass shooting in Ohio took place and the hospital where victims are being treated held signs calling for gun reform and questioning Trump's effect on the national discourse.
A smaller group of pro-Trump supporters thanked the president.
TRT World's Jon Brain reports from the US.
His visit was preceded by strong criticism over his use of divisive rhetoric that is oftentimes nativist and alarmist.
The mayors of Dayton and El Paso, Texas, the site of the first of last weekend's tragedies, cautioned the president against continuing to use similar language when he talks about immigrants.
Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, a Trump opponent, said afterwards that the president "was comforting and he did the right thing" at Miami Valley Hospital, in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed early Sunday morning. But the senator denounced Trump's "racist talk and divisive talk" on immigration issues.
Outside the hospital, protesters held signs that called for restrictions on gun buying or, in one case, demanding impeachment proceedings.
The people I met today in Dayton are the finest anywhere! pic.twitter.com/sBxKZWExcR— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2019
But Trump has been undeterred, saying before he left the White House that he does not believe his rhetoric has contributed "at all" to violence.
"My critics are political people. They’re trying to make points," he told reporters. "I think my rhetoric brings people together."
Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Beto O’Rourke took part in a demonstration as Trump arrived in El Paso Wednesday afternoon.
O'Rourke has been a stern critic of the president' s anti-immigrant rhetoric and told the El Paso rally the president "demonises communities like this one" and "vilifies" immigrants.
"Though we bore the brunt of this hatred and this racism, and this intolerance, and this violence, I believe that this community also holds the answer, not just for El Paso, but for a country that has never been more divided or more highly polarised," O'Rourke said.
"The way that we welcome one another, and see our differences -- not as disqualifying or dangerous, but as the very source of our strength, as the foundation of our success -- that needs to be the example to the United States of America today."
Election politics follows tragedy
Trump's stop in El Paso risked being more awkward still.
As a famed border city, El Paso is at the center of Trump's high-profile political campaign against illegal immigration.
The killer deliberately sought out the city, claiming to be stopping an "invasion" of illegal migrants, a term that has been used repeatedly by Trump as well.
Local Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar said she would not meet the president.
"From my perspective, he is not welcome here. He should not come here," Escobar said Tuesday on MSNBC.
Even the city's Republican mayor offered only a grudging welcome, stressing icily that he would greet Trump in his "official capacity."
Trump, clearly had politics as much as tragedy on his mind ahead of next year's reelection bid.
Flying from Dayton to El Paso, he tweeted from Air Force One that he was watching a televised speech by the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden.
Trump offers no moral leadership, no interest in unifying the nation, and no evidence the presidency has awakened his conscience in the least.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 7, 2019
Instead, we have a president with a toxic tongue who has unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.
In the speech, Biden accused Trump of fanning "the flames of white supremacy."
"Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring!" Trump commented.
Earlier Wednesday, before leaving the White House, Trump insisted that critics of his rhetoric were opponents "trying to make points."
"I think my rhetoric brings people together," he said.
'Least racist person'
Trump is infuriated by accusations that his administration seeks to exploit racial divisions in the country to whip up his core voter base.
"I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!" he tweeted Tuesday.
Trump kicked off his 2016 White House bid with a rally in which he said Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers but conceded mildly that "some, I assume, are good people”.
As recently as May, the president laughed and made a quip when a supporter at one of his rallies yelled that they should "shoot" illegal immigrants.
So far, 22 people have died following the mass shooting near the US-Mexico border that federal investigators are treating as a case of domestic terrorism.
The suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, was taken into custody after 20 people were killed and 26 others were injured during the attack. Two of the injured victims died at a hospital Monday.
Just minutes before the tragedy, a racist screed was posted to 8chan, a website popular with extremists, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” which railed against an alleged "Hispanic invasion of Texas” and assailed "race mixing" while pledging an imminent attack.
“I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” it said. "This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe. I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction."
Investigators are attributing the writing to Crusiu s, a resident of Dallas, Texas.