El Paso Shooting Probed as Domestic Terrorism After Anti-Immigrant Gunman Kills 22 People

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Over the span of 13 hours, the United States was shaken by two mass shootings. Saturday morning, a heavily armed gunman opened fire inside a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people, including a number of Mexican nationals. Federal authorities are treating the El Paso attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The suspected gunman has been identified as a 21-year-old white man named Patrick Crusius, who lived 600 miles away in a suburb of Dallas. Shortly before the attack in El Paso, the gunman posted an anti-immigrant manifesto on the far-right message board 8chan. Some of the language in the manifesto echoed remarks by President Trump, including his use of the word “invasion” to describe immigrants crossing the southern border. We speak with César Blanco, Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, and Fernando Garcia, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: It was a deadly weekend in America. Over the span of 13 hours, the country was rocked by two mass shootings. At around 10:30 Saturday morning, a heavily armed gunman opened fire inside a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Authorities say 20 people were shot dead [The death toll was later increased to 22]. The victims were predominantly Latino, including seven Mexican nationals. At least two dozen people were injured.

Then, just after 1 a.m. on Sunday, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, shot dead nine people outside a bar in the city’s historic Oregon District. The dead included the gunman’s own sister. Most of the dead were African Americans. Police are still investigating the motive of the Dayton gunman, a white male named Connor Betts. According to news reports, the 24-year-old had been suspended from high school after compiling lists of girls he wanted to rape and kill.

Meanwhile, federal authorities are treating the El Paso attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The suspected El Paso gunman has been identified as a 21-year-old white male named Patrick Crusius, who lived 600 miles away in a suburb of Dallas.

Shortly before the attack in El Paso, the gunman posted an anti-immigrant manifesto on the far-right message board 8chan, which had also been used by the gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand and killed 50 Muslims, and the gunman who attacked a San Diego synagogue. On Sunday, the founder of 8chan called for the site to be taken down. Some of the language in the manifesto echoed remarks by President Trump, including his use of the word “invasion” to describe immigrants crossing the southern border.

On Sunday, President Trump briefly spoke about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton but did not refer to guns, domestic terrorism or white nationalism or supremacy in his remarks. President Trump is scheduled to address the nation today at 10 a.m.

On the presidential campaign trail, a number of Democratic candidates linked the shooting in El Paso to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, accused Trump of stoking racism. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Trump is not helping to stop what he described as a, quote, “lethal, violent, white nationalist terrorism.” Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a special session of the Senate to pass a gun safety bill.

The El Paso attack came just days after a white male shooter attacked the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three people. The gunman in Gilroy promoted an anti-immigrant manifesto online just hours before the shooting. According to The New York Times, white extremist shooters have killed at least 63 people in the United States over the past 18 months.

We go now to El Paso, where we’re joined by two guests. César Blanco is a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives. Fernando Garcia is the founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an advocacy group based in El Paso.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! First of all, condolences on the horror that has taken place in your community, in El Paso. We want to begin with César Blanco. If you could talk about what your — tell us about your community in El Paso, and then tell us what you’re demanding right now.

REP. CÉSAR BLANCO: Well, thank you, Amy. El Paso is a warm, welcoming, binational community located on the U.S.-Mexico border. Our sister city to the south of us in Mexico is Juárez. We are a community that is very tight-knit. We are a community that opens its arms to immigrants and welcomes immigrants. This community is a community of immigrants. My father is an immigrant from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. This is tragic, and it’s horrible that we’re seeing these type of acts of violence and murder, tied to white supremacy, occurring here in our communities.

We need to see action. We need — the words of the president have been harmful. And it’s unfortunate that this president has not condemned this white national violent act here in our communities, in other communities across the country. And it’s horrible that the United States Senate has not taken any action in terms of gun reform, to not allow these type of weapons to reach the hands of these individuals who create havoc and fear in our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe for us what you understand took place on Saturday morning at that Walmart.

REP. CÉSAR BLANCO: Well, early, about 10:00 to 10:30, there were calls, 911 calls to police. A gunman began firing in the parking lot of Walmart here in El Paso, and he entered the store, began shooting and firing at individuals.

This community is a majority Latino. He drove in 600 miles to perform these acts of violence against our community. We have seen in his manifesto the level of hate toward our community and toward immigrants in this country, and clearly looks like it was an intentional act.

Throughout the day, families had been waiting to hear news. They set up a family reunification center, in the elementary school that I attended as a kid, to allow families to wait to hear either the good news or the bad news. Unfortunately, for many, the bad news was that their family members were killed by this individual.

AMY GOODMAN: Fernando Garcia, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, can you talk about the reports that some survivors were afraid to get help — maybe they were injured, but afraid because of their status right now, their immigration status?

FERNANDO GARCIA: Yes, Amy. Listen, throughout the last, actually, two days, we had received several calls from families that were afraid of actually going into the hospitals and clinics, because they saw so many Border Patrol personnel and vehicles. And they were actually not reporting their injuries, and they were actually going to the hospitals and clinics on their own. So, they called us, and what we did is, eventually, we called our congresswoman, Escobar, because we wanted Border Patrol and ICE to actually issue in a statement that they would not enforce immigration laws these days in El Paso.

And I think people are still afraid of that, because even before this shooting happened, people were afraid already of immigration enforcement. So, I think, little by little, people is getting a little bit more comfortable, obviously, but it’s going to take a little bit more than that. At this point, we are still receiving calls of people being afraid of reporting their injuries to the hospitals and the authorities because of the fear that they have with immigration.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe that Latinos were targeted? I mean, clearly, in this so-called manifesto, I mean, right before the gunman opened fire at the Walmart in El Paso, he posted this anti-immigrant screed, apparently, attributed to him. It appeared online. The manifesto is titled “The Inconvenient Truth About Me.” It reads, in part, quote, “I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion. … Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs. They will turn Texas into an instrument of a political coup which will hasten the destruction of our country,” the manifesto read. It also cites the “Great Replacement” theory, the white nationalist, right-wing conspiracy theory, which was also evoked during the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, in Virginia, in 2017, when the neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

The author of the El Paso manifesto claims his views, quote, “predate Trump and his campaign.” But the manifesto borrows a number of Trump’s popular slogans, including “Send them back” and “fake news,” which Trump also repeated, “fake news.”

Trump did not refer to the Latinos who were killed, who were targeted. He said, “Today’s” — he tweeted very little and spoke little this weekend about El Paso and Dayton, but did tweet, “Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

Do you, like Beto O’Rourke and Senator Sanders and others, believe that Trump is partially responsible for what took place? Let me put that question — 

FERNANDO GARCIA: Amy, listen. El Paso —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

FERNANDO GARCIA: Yes, yes. Let me tell you, what we saw was an attack against a symbol. El Paso has become a symbol of resistance to all of what Trump represents. Every strategy that he implemented at the border started in El Paso. And our community reacted. And our community resisted the separation of children, returning refugees to Mexico, children dying in Border Patrol stations, in ICE stations. So, our community has shown resilience to this aggressive anti-immigrant agenda of this president. But also, our community has welcomed refugees. We have opened our homes, our city to refugees and immigrants. And it seems that we were punished because of that.

We need to call it what it is. You know, a few months ago, we had the white supremacist militias coming down to the El Paso region. And at that time, we talked to them, and we engaged with them. And what they were saying at that time is that they were responding to Trump’s call to action to come to the border to protect the border from the invasion of criminals. Obviously, they were referring to children and refugees and mothers. So we need to call this what it is. This was the result of Trump’s racist agenda, Trump’s hate towards Mexicans and immigrants. I mean, we cannot call it any other way. And I believe that Trump is very cynical today, that he’s calling this shooting, or he’s labeling the shooting as a mental health issue. It is not true. Once again, he needs to accept responsibility what he has done. Words matter. And today, Trump’s words killed El Pasoans.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, President Trump traveled to Panama City Beach in Florida’s Panhandle for a campaign rally, where he laughed in approval when an audience member shouted that migrants crossing into the United States should be shot. The interaction came as Trump was praising border security workers.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don’t let them, and we can’t let them, use weapons. We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people? You can’t. There’s no —

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Shoot them!

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the audience member shouted “Shoot them!” And he said, “Only in the Panhandle,” he said, “can you repeat [sic] that.” I’d like to turn to Democratic presidential candidate, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. In an interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, he said President Trump is responsible for the mass shootings.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: I turn my attention to the person who is leading this country, who is — in my opinion, in this moral moment, who is failing. And I think that at the end of the day, especially because this was a white supremacist manifesto, that I want to say, with more moral clarity, that Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry. He is responsible because he’s failing to condemn white supremacy and see it as it is, which is responsible for such a significant amount of the terrorist attacks. He is responsible because he is president of the United States and has failed to do anything significant to stop the mass availability of weapons to people who intend to do harm.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Cory Booker. I also want to turn to Fox & Friends, to turn to Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who said it’s the video game industry that was responsible for the rise in mass shootings.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: How long are we going to let, for example, and ignore, at the federal level particularly, where they can do something about, the video game industry? You know, in this manifesto that we believe is from the shooter, this manifesto, he talks about living out his super soldier fantasy on Call of Duty. We know that the video game industry is bigger than the movie industry and the music industry combined. And there have been studies that say it impacts people, and studies that says it does not. But I look at the common denominators, as a 60-some-year-old father and grandfather myself, what’s changed in this country. We’ve always had guns. We’ve always had evil. But what’s changed where we see this rash of shooting? And I see a video game industry that teaches young people to kill.

AMY GOODMAN: Video games. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a similar claim later on Sunday in an interview on Fox.

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY: But the idea of these video games to dehumanize individuals, to have a game of shooting individuals and others, I’ve always felt that is a problem for future generations and others. We’ve watched from studies shown before of what it does to individuals. When you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have Republican leaders, you have President Trump, refusing to talk about both guns and white supremacy. I want to put this question to El Paso Representative César Blanco. The issue of guns — Texas, your state, is an open-carry state. Explain what that means. And now a number of Democrats are demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell call a special session of the Senate so they can pass gun control legislation. Even the extremely conservative New York Post in New York is calling for a weapons ban. Can you respond to the state of your state in Texas? Walmart, where this took place, and the Mississippi Walmart a few days before where workers were killed, both sell weapons. What are your demands?

REP. CÉSAR BLANCO: Sure. Well, obviously, Texas is a state that has an infatuation with weapons, and these are weapons that are readily available in our communities.

You know, I want to respond to lieutenant governor’s statement that this is about video games. You know, video games didn’t kill 20 people in our community. Video games did not maim 26 additional people who are fighting for their lives in the hospital. It was a white supremacist with a high-powered automatic assault rifle that killed those individuals, not a video game. And for politicians to skirt around the truth to identify the problem instead and implement policies that address this issue is shameful.

We must do more. As a state representative, I have authored legislation that bans bump stock-style magazines to be sold in our state — never received a hearing. I have also authored legislation to eliminate the online loopholes where people can purchase weapons without background checks. We need major gun reform now. But we also need to identify that there is a spread of white nationalism throughout this country that is now accompanied by acts of violence. These are domestic terrorists in our country. And we should treat them no different from al-Qaeda. We should treat them no different from those individuals who have attacked us in the past.

You look at other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, that has a very large gaming community and industry, video games. We don’t see these type of acts of violence in their countries. So, to blame video games is irresponsible.

I call on both Republicans and Democrats alike to make meaningful reforms, not only on assault weapons, but also to condemn these acts of violence by white supremacists. Our president, I think, as a leader — I agree with Senator Cory Booker’s comments. Our presidents historically have united our country. And for this president to stoke fear and stoke acts of violence in a message, and joking about it in his political rallies, is unpresidential. So, we need our politicians to act swiftly. They need to have the moral courage to do what’s right. And really, at the end of the day, that’s what’s missing in this conversation, is the lack of strength and courage for elected officials to do the right thing, because they’re afraid of the NRA, they’re afraid of their racist base. And it’s unfortunate that they’re not speaking out against these un-American values that have come to hurt our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Bernie Sanders recently tweeted, “There are more than 5 million assault weapons out on the streets of America, which is more than the U.S. military has. That is insane. We must ban the sale, distribution and transfer of assault weapons.” And he goes on from there. There are more weapons in the United States than people.

I want to thank you both for being with us from El Paso, which is something like 80% Latino and one of the safest cities in the country. Fernando Garcia of Border Network for Human Rights and César Blanco, Texas House of Representatives representative, thank you both for being there.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, white supremacy, white supremacist violence. That’s what we’re going to talk about. And then, the implosion of the NRA. What is holding back even Democratic politicians from demanding at this moment bans on assault weapons and other gun regulations? Stay with us.

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Ex-FBI Agent Speaks Out: Federal Authorities Have Downplayed White Supremacist Violence for Too Long

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