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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Trump finally condemns the white supremacists he inspires

Closeup of Trump as he c Trump condemns shootings in El Paso and Dayton in White House on Aug. 5.
Reuters/Leah Millis
He found the words.
  • Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

A US president widely condemned for promoting racism, bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy decried them in turn today after America’s most recent mass shootings—including one on the border with Mexico that appeared to be motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” Donald Trump said at the White House in response to the shootings that killed at least 30 people in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

The peaceful sentiment is long overdue

Trump’s contentions last month that “the Squad”—four US congresswomen of color, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley—should “go back” to where they came from ignited the latest firestorm of debate about his racism. The congresswomen are all American citizens, and all but Omar were born in the US, yet the president insisted that they didn’t belong in the country if they are critical of it, echoing a common sentiment expressed by bigoted Americans.     

After a 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—which also brought out anti-racism protestors—a car plowed through the crowd, killing one protestor and injuring 19 others. The president spoke out against hatred but allocated equal blame to white supremacists and those protesting against them. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said, “on many sides.” 

The president’s rhetoric has inspired and emboldened white supremacists in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project director Heidi Beirich. On Aug. 4, Beirich issued a statement, saying, “By describing immigrants in derogatory terms, President Trump is pushing anti-immigrant hate into the mainstream. Trump has broken the bounds of decency, and his rhetoric and tweets are normalizing anti-immigrant sentiments and fueling white supremacist conspiracy theories that engender violence.”

Trump’s popularity on Telegram

Indeed, on the messaging app Telegram, where white nationalists have been calling for domestic terrorism against immigrants, the president’s rhetoric is popular. As the SPLC reports, someone going by the name “Pure Hate” used Trump’s own words to indicate why the shooting in El Paso, which left six Mexican nationals dead, was justified, writing, “Hey Bean N——, in case you didn’t hear it the first time. Trump said, ‘you have to go back. You have to go back. We have no choice!’”

Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old gunman who surrendered to Texas authorities on Saturday, appears to have posted an anti-immigrant manifesto on the social media platform 8chan right before his attack on shoppers at the El Paso Walmart. He seemed to be following a pattern carried out in attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, which targeted Muslims, and in Poway, California in April, which targeted Jews. The suspects in both of those attacks also published manifestos to 8chan, portraying whites as victims of a plan for elimination by immigrants.

Trump’s total condemnation of the latest hate crime this time may indicate he understands, to some degree, the dangerous impact his words are having. It also may be too little, too late, however, considering how much he has encouraged the hate. “Trump is emboldening ideologies that turn into real life violence, making America a more dangerous place for all of us and particularly the communities Trump targets,” SPLC’s Beirich said.

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