In the aftermath of Saturday’s slaughter of 20 innocent people inside an El Paso Walmart, it was easy to find news of the killer’s motives. He was a white nationalist, who had posted a racist diatribe a short time earlier in which he railed against Hispanic immigration to the U.S. and said that the immigrants were going to displace whites and take control of the nation’s political institutions. Just about every legitimate American news source had details posted to their websites by late Saturday afternoon.
Though the El Paso shooter didn’t mention President Donald Trump in his rambling manifesto except to say that his hatred of Hispanics predated the Trump presidency, pundits were quick to point the finger of blame at Trump’s often inflammatory rhetoric.
Just 13 hours later, shortly after midnight Sunday morning, another killer struck, murdering nine — including his own sister — outside a nightclub in Dayton, Oh. By Monday afternoon, just one website — the conservative Washington Times — had news of the Dayton killer’s political views.
Why the difference? Call me cynical, but I’m guessing it’s because the El Paso killer fit a profile that the Dayton killer didn’t fit.
So-called experts have warned that Trump’s rhetoric on immigration will eventually incite violence. So when it emerged that the El Paso shooter had left behind an anti-immigration manifesto that showed he had intended to target Hispanics in an effort to strike fear into the hearts of immigrants in hopes that they would return to their native countries, Democratic presidential candidates — along with sympathetic voices in the mainstream media — were quick to tie Trump to his action’s.
In Dayton, the killer was white — almost all the public mass shootings in recent years have been committed by young, angry white men, which is another issue that deserves examining but isn’t the subject of this column — but apparently not a part of the same alt-right political movement as his counterpart in El Paso. He was a proclaimed liberal who favored socialist policies and had hoped to vote for Democrat Elizabeth Warren for president. His social media postings made clear his hate for Trump and for Republicans in general. He mentioned nothing about immigration, but did express support for multiple issues that are traditionally progressive in nature.
Two shooters, two very different political backgrounds. So why is it fair to examine one and not the other?
It’s absolutely fair to point out that the El Paso shooter was a white supremacist. As whites, we’ve been generally reluctant to call out white supremacism for what it is, which is a scourge on this nation. It’s time to condemn it, unequoivocally and completely, and root it out wherever it exists.
It’s also not unfair to examine the shooter’s actions in light of President Trump’s rhetoric. For better or worse, Trump is the first president who has used social media to harshly rebuke his critics and perceived enemies. Even many of his supporters admit that his words are often over the top, even as they admire his policies and plan to vote for him again in 2020. Words do have consequences, especially when they’re uttered by people on influential perches, and there is perhaps no position of influence like President of the United States, leader of the free world.
At the same time, it’s not unfair — in fact, it’s absolutely necessary — to point out the divisive rhetoric that’s been coming from the other side of the political spectrum. There are a number of politicians on the left who are guilty of it, including former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and current presidential candidate Cory Booker, as well as the so-called “Squad” of four freshmen congresswomen who Trump picked a fight with. In fact, in terms of speech’s potential to incite violence, Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ infamous quote — “If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere” — surpasses anything Trump has said.
Trump doesn’t deserve a free pass, because words do have consequences. But Waters doesn’t deserve a free pass, either … because words do have consequences.
Perhaps no one summed it up better than conservative commentator Matt Walsh who said Monday: “A lot of the people who said the El Paso shooter’s politics were relevant now say the Dayton shooter’s politics aren’t. And a lot of the people who said the El Paso shooter’s politics weren’t relevant now say the Dayton shooter’s politics are. Hypocrites everywhere.”
I said the same thing on Sunday. It’s frustrating that the same people who are screeching about Trump’s complicity in the El Paso shooting are silent on the Dayton shooting … and it’s just as frustrating that conservatives who can’t bring themselves to admit that white supremacy is causing irreparable harm to our nation are so quick to point fingers of blame at Democrats when it’s convenient for them.
Right on cue, someone messaged me Saturday night to suggest that Trump shouldn’t be blamed for what happened in El Paso, then messaged me again on Sunday when news of the Dayton shooter’s fondness of Warren emerged.
We can’t have it both ways. If we are examining the El Paso shooter’s motives while ignoring the politics of the Dayton shooter, or vice-versa, we aren’t interested in solutions; we’re interested in political gain. Presidential candidates like Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttiegeg who quickly point the finger of blame at Trump while failing to condemn the incendiary rhetoric of their colleagues like Booker and Waters or The Gang aren’t engaging in a search for solutions; they’re engaging in political opportunism.
The madman in El Paso entitled his manifesto, “The Inconvenient Truth.” Well, here’s the inconvenient truth: Both sides are to blame. That likely includes some politicians we voted for or are fond of, and there’s a chance it might involve us ourselves. We have to tone down the rhetoric. We’ve lost civility. And every time something like El Paso or Dayton happens, it seems like we just scream louder to make ourselves heard.
We’re losing the spirit of what has made America great for so many generations. We’re losing it because we’re shouting each other down over differences of opinion instead of remembering what unites us. We’re gunning each other down in places where our mere gathering used to be a sign of that unity.
How do we solve this? I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I think it starts this way: We have to get back to that place where we know that we’re Americans even if we have differing political viewpoints or different skin colors. We have to tone down the rhetoric. That goes for President Trump and Congressman Waters alike, for Republicans and Democrats alike. And for me and you. Continually pointing the finger of blame at the other side without stopping to ponder the blame that “our” side must shoulder is going to solve nothing. It frightens me to think about where this might lead if we’re unable — or unwilling — to turn the tide.
ν Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.