On Saturday night, a domestic terrorist murdered at least 22 people in El Paso, Texas, wounding more than two dozen more. Before the attack, the shooter apparently posted an online screed that police are calling a manifesto and that referred to a “Hispanic invasion.” But his anti-Mexican words do not exist in a vacuum — indeed, they echo those we have heard repeatedly over the past four years.
President Donald Trump’s own "manifesto" of hate has created a real and present danger that continues to dehumanize migrant lives, especially people of mostly Mexican and Central American descent. And it’s all in the name of protecting a paranoid white America. This isn’t an issue of direct causation — Trump was careful Monday to condemn violence and white supremacy. But it is clear that the president’s rhetoric and that of his supporters is contributing to a deadly societal fear of immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants.
This isn’t an issue of direct causation. But it is clear that the president’s rhetoric and that of his supporters is contributing to a deadly societal fear of immigrants.
When Trump laughs at calls to shoot migrants, defends his view that the country is being overrun or tweets of the “invasion,” he is spreading this manifesto. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump tweeted in June of 2018. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”
As recently as May 30, a statement by Trump started with the following sentence: “As everyone knows, the United States of America has been invaded by hundreds of thousands of people coming through Mexico and entering our country illegally.”
“This sustained influx of illegal aliens has profound consequences on every aspect of our national life — overwhelming our schools, overcrowding our hospitals, draining our welfare system, and causing untold amounts of crime,” the statement continues. “It must end NOW!”
This manifesto shows up in the president’s official White House remarks to the press, too.
“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” Trump said on Feb. 15.
“At this very moment, large, well-organized caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an ‘invasion.’ It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border,” he said on March 1, 2018.
These words find greater reach thanks to allies working at Fox News, like Tucker Carlson, who said this on April 30, 2018: “When you arrive in a country to contribute to it and to assimilate into its culture, you don't wave the flag of a foreign nation. That's what you do in triumph when you invade a country. This is not immigration. Immigration happens with the consent of the host country. This is happening by force. Without our consent.”
Meanwhile, Trump surrogate Steve Cortes said a “soft invasion” was happening during a CNN appearance in April of 2018. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said in March that “we have D-Day every month on our southern border,” referring to border apprehensions. That same month, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, bragged on his official congressional website that “there is a brazen invasion occurring at our border.”
The Trump manifesto is even advertised on Facebook, as Media Matters’ Natalie Martinez pointed out this weekend: “According to Facebook's ad archive, Trump has run around 2,200 FB ads since May 2018 mentioning the word 'invasion.' Scrolling through, all of them seem to be about immigration.”
The roots of this rhetoric dates back centuries, but it was made especially clear in 2015 when Trump said this: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Those who saw the dehumanization of these words issued dire warnings. Such words could lead to increased violence against immigrant communities and U.S. Latinos in general. The warnings were never really heeded.
Trump did not make the El Paso shooter pick up his weapon — in his manifesto the 21-year-old suspect mentioned that both Republicans and Democrats shared blame for what he saw as the erosion of (white) American society. But people are taking him and his ideas seriously. The El Paso terrorist says he was afraid of an “invasion,” a central theme of the Trump presidency. This constant dehumanization of Latinos has resulted in something we have always agonized about: an act of senseless violence that ripped through one of the country's greatest border cities.
Will America wake up now, or is it still thinking that words don’t really matter?