The El Paso massacre joins the lengthening list of armed attacks, mostly in the United States, by men who identify as white nationalists. When Patrick Crucius, 21, killed 22 people after opening fire in a Walmart, the shooting immediately sparked heated debates in the United States about the role of racist, misogynist, and anti-migrant hate speech, including that coming out of the White House, and about gun control. In Mexico, it elicited a response from the Mexican government that, although firm in its support for the Mexican victims and their families, again reflects the sick relationship between the two governments and the dangers that this implies for their people.
It’s worth taking a closer look at each of these three points.
In his canned speech on August 5, two days after the massacre, Donald Trump lamented the loss of life in El Paso and in the weekend’s other massacre, in Dayton, Ohio. He even condemned racism and white supremacy as “sinister ideologies”. But then he concluded, “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun.” In that phrase he isolated the crime and dismissed the role of the lack of gun control. Not surprisingly, he also completely ignored his own role in becoming the hero of white nationalist fanatics by encouraging division, trashing Mexicans and other Latinos and demonizing immigrants. In addition to emphasizing mental illness as if it were an individual and not a social problem, he blamed the Internet, social media and violent video games.
Journalists and investigators discovered a four-page manifesto and other messages in the Crusius’ social media accounts of Crusius. In the text, the killer exposes the racist ideology behind the attack:
“In general, 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.”
Democrats and many commentators have decried the division and hate fomented by the Trump administration as a direct cause of the recent shootings. On multiple occasions, Donald Trump has used the word “invasion” to characterize Mexican and Central American immigration.
When Trump announced a consolation visit to El Paso, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso accused the Republicans of “dehumanizing” latinos and immigrants and stated on twitter, “I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country.” In the end, not a single victim would meet with the president and his immigrant wife, and they had to return an orphaned baby to the hospital for the photo op.
With the obvious turn towards virulent racism and almost-weekly killings, U.S. society once again is asking urgent questions in the media and on the streets about ‘who are we?’, and where the Trump presidency is leading society.
The second component of the crimes has come up only tangentially, but is fundamental to understanding the lethal cocktail being served up country. The murderer, Connor Betts, who killed nine people in Dayton had a long history of vitriol and violence against women. He was suspended from school for carrying a “rape list” with names of women students, and several women acquaintances reported extremely violent behaviors and comments against women. He was a member of a «pornogrind» band that talked about raping and killing women.
Although in this case his political orientation is unclear, the link between white supremacist violence and misogyny is well established as a typical profile of assassins of the alt-right. It involves deep-seated hatred for women and fear and resentment of our reproductive capacity. As part of his written justification for the massacre, the El Paso killer characterized Latino immigrants as “Invaders who also have close to the highest birthrate of all ethnicities in America.” Birth rates among people of color, interracial marriage and women’s autonomy are common whipping posts of modern society for the alt-right.
The second point, gun control, is the tragically ever-recurring and never-resolved issue in U.S. politics that makes these kinds of attacks viable. When Trump says the gun is not to blame, he’s repeating the argument of the powerful National Rifle Association, which has managed to block any real attempt to regulate weapons in the US, despite millions of voices in favor.
This argument is false. If the murderers did not have access to high-caliber weapons, it would be impossible to plan large-scale attacks and kill so many people. CNN reported that Dayton’s killer Betts managed to shoot 41 shots in 30 seconds before he was shot down by police. Crusius in El Paso carried a .223 caliber rifle and police estimate he had 250 rounds of ammunition.
Crazy or not, if it weren’t for carrying this kind of weapons that has no use beyond killing as many human beings as quickly as possible, they could not carry out massacres of these dimensions. In their histories, the weekend’s young murderers sent up many red flags that should have prohibited them from access to arms. But without background checks, without restrictions on access to weapons, and without the prohibition of weapons capable of containing more than one hundred rounds of ammunition, nothing and nobody stopped them.
The Mexican government has indicated it may seek extradition of Crusius for killing Mexican citizens and could call for an international investigation of domestic terrorism in the United States. Days before the massacre in El Paso, on July 28, another white, male murderer killed three people – two Mexican-American children and one African American – in Gilroy, California. Santino Legan left messages citing a book considered a classic between white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Both shootings were a frontal attack on Mexico, Mexicans, and immigrants–an attack cultivated by the hate speech promoted by Trump and the seemingly endless barrage of rules and policies to reject, criminalize, punish and expel immigrants.
The government of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador expressed indignation and consolation and offered support to the families. In statements from the president and Sec. of Foreign Relations, it demanded punishment for those responsible. But even after the horror of the El Paso killing, it did not give up its strategy of doing everything possible to avoid offending Donald Trump.
Lopez Obrador said pointedly he did not want to “personalize, so as not to send messages dedicated [to a particular person].” In a speech reminiscent of the former foreign relations minister, Luis Videgaray, he said “We have to seek good neighborly relations”, and added “We are not going to intrude into the internal life of other countries.” Apparently, making any reference to the obvious link between Trump’s policies and words and the streak of attacks on Mexicans is a form of intervention.
Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard presented a series of measures, after the attack: accompanying families, participating in investigations, working with consuls for the protection of Mexicans in the U.S., among others. These are certainly worthy. He also proposed to take action against those responsible for the sale of weapons, which in practice doesn’t appear viable, since the media already reported that the sales were legal under lax laws. He finished with the proposal to catalogue the killer as a terrorist. This is highly problematic given the use of anti-terrorist laws to repress social movements for democracy in Latin America and deserves deeper analysis.
The El Paso massacre should be a turning point. It helps no one—except Donald Trump– to explicitly or implicitly support a president who proves day after day to be an enemy of Mexico and its people and the principles the new government supposedly stands by. Trump’s language and his continual actions against immigrants have validated white supremacists and emboldened the underground networks of unstable men who only feel secure when armed to the teeth and who take out their anger on false scapegoats. The political and social space created by the Trump administration for these expressions gives oxygen to the most violent extremists.
Migration pacts that the AMLO government has agreed to with Trump have led to harassment and roundups of migrants in Mexico so that they do not reach the northern border. They give cover to the idea that migrants are an undesirable element in society. By replicating Trump’s anti-migrant actions in Mexican territory–deployment the armed forces and National Guard to stop the flow of migrants northward, detention and deportation–he sends the message that Mexico shares Trumps’s strategy and is willing to apply it. It betrays the promises of a Fourth Transformation with more respect for human rights, less dependency on the United States and attention to the most vulnerable.
Some progress could come out of this tragedy. If these hate crimes end up reducing Trump’s ability to use racism and attacks against Mexico in campaigns; if people and congress are mobilized to demand gun control, then the deaths will not have been in vain. If they lead to a greater repudiation of Donald Trump, Steven Miller and his agenda, they will not have died in vain.And if the López Obrador government finally becomes convinced that Mexico does not have to pretend to be a great friend of a government that attacks its interests (and its people), that provokes massacres with hate speeches against the Mexican people, that exploits and dehumanizes women and foreigners, they will not have died in vain.
At this point, only a clean break with the narrative and the practice of criminalizing immigrants can put an end to these massacres.