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Critics say Trump foments white supremacy; aide says don't blame him in El Paso shooting

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 8/4/2019 By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House as he arrives at the White House after a trip to Cincinnati on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. © Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House as he arrives at the White House after a trip to Cincinnati on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Critics of President Trump on Sunday denounced his heated rhetoric on race and immigration in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso, but the president’s supporters said it was unfair to blame him for inspiring such attacks.

Democratic elected officials also called anew for tightened gun laws after a shooter’s rampage in a crowded shopping area a short distance from the border with Mexico on Saturday, which left at least 20 people dead. That was followed hours later by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, in which nine died along with the attacker.

Among Democrats, White House aspirants were some of the sharpest critics of the president, asserting that he bore a share of moral responsibility for fomenting hatred that could serve as an inspiration to attackers. But a top Trump aide, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, retorted that “I don’t think it’s fair to lay this at the feet of the president.”

While stopping short of assigning direct blame, Democratic candidates castigated Trump for encouraging white supremacists with rhetoric dating back to the early days of his own campaign. Authorities in Texas were scrutinizing whether the alleged gunman in El Paso wrote an anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly before the shootings.

“I have this belief that you reap what you sow, and he is sowing seeds of hate in this country,” Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is seeking his party’s 2020 nomination, said of Trump.

“The harvest of hate-violence we’re seeing right now lies at his feet,” said Booker, who was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Another Democratic contender, Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” did not mention Trump by name, but said white nationalism “is condoned at the highest levels of our government.” He referred to racially motivated shooting attacks as “terrorism.”

Democratic presidential aspirants from Texas were particularly incensed by the deadly attack. Beto O’Rourke, asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether he believes Trump is a white nationalist, responded: “Yes, I do.”

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who is also running for president, cited the need to address “toxic white supremacy that is brewing in the country” and said GOP elected officials needed to “call out” the president’s divisive rhetoric.

“If this had been somebody of the Muslim faith that had committed this kind of act, immediately they would go with this idea that—as the president has, this bogus idea—that we have to keep all Muslims out of the country, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Castro said on NBC.

From his New Jersey golf property, Trump on Sunday tweeted praise of law enforcement and expressed sympathy for the victims, initially refraining from hitting back at critics. “God bless the people of El Paso. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio,” he wrote.

Senior aides, meanwhile, said it was unreasonable to link the actions of attackers to the president’s words.

“This is a serious problem, no question about it, but these are sick, sick people, and the president knows it,” Mulvaney said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The shootings in Texas and Ohio came against a backdrop of controversy over racist remarks by the president about Democratic lawmakers of color. Three weeks ago, he tweeted that four minority congresswomen, three of whom were native-born, and all of whom are U.S. citizens, should “go back” to their countries of origin.

When Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who is black, complained about the president’s attacks on the liberal congresswomen, Trump blasted the Maryland Democrat over crime and rodents in his Baltimore district. Then he called Cummings, a civil rights veteran, a racist.

Cummings heads a House panel that is investigating the security clearance for the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and some reports suggested that was the genuine source of the president’s animosity toward him.

The El Paso attack prompted some critics to circulate a 3-month-old clip of a Trump rally at Panama City Beach, in the Florida Panhandle, at which the president mused aloud about how to stop migrants from crossing the southern border.

“Shoot ‘em!” shouted someone in the audience, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Trump smiled and shook his head. “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” he said.

As in previous mass shootings, the dual attacks in Texas and Ohio brought the gun-control issue to the fore. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called on Twitter for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “immediately” call the Senate back into session to take up a gun-safety measure.

Dayton’s Democratic mayor, Nan Whaley, called the deaths in her city “completely preventable.” In a phone interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she posed a direct question to elected officials in Washington.

“We’re city No. 250,” she said. “How many more cities have to go through mass shootings before somebody does something to change the law?”

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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