President Donald Trump addressed the nation for roughly nine minutes on Monday after two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, which left at least 29 people dead and 53 injured over the weekend.
As the country reeled once again from devastating scenes of gun violence and death, Trump demanded that “sinister ideologies” be defeated and condemned “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.”
“Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul,” Trump said in a nationally-televised address from the White House.
Trump’s address was his first to the nation following the pair of horrific mass shootings over the weekend.
The first of the two shootings occurred Saturday afternoon when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, leaving 20 people dead and 26 injured. Less than 13 hours later, another shooter attacked a crowd outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing 9 people and injuring 27.
Trump called for four steps to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic, including instituting the death penalty for hate crimes; passing “red flag” laws; “identifying and acting on early warning signs” on social media and the Internet; and reforming the nation’s mental health laws “to better identify mentally-disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence.”
The president called the shooters “twisted” and “mentally-ill monsters,” and said he would direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to “propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty.” He added that capital punishment in these cases should be “delivered quickly, decisively and without years of needless delay.”
Federal prosecutors are treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism, which would carry a possible sentence of the death penalty, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, John Bash, said Sunday in a news conference.
Trump on Monday also called for Congress to pass “red flag laws,” which would focus on better identifying mentally-ill people who should not be allowed to purchase firearms. Democrats are likely to call for more expansive gun control measures.
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger — not the gun,” Trump declared.
The president also called for cultural changes, including stopping the “glorification of violence in our society” in video games and elsewhere, adding that the Internet provides a “dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds.”
“The Internet, likewise, is used for human-trafficking, illegal drug distribution and so many other heinous crimes,” Trump continued. “The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored, and they will not be ignored.”
Earlier on Monday, the president wrote on Twitter that lawmakers must “come together and get strong background checks” and suggested combining such legislation with “desperately needed immigration reform.” However, Trump did not elaborate on his call for stronger background checks during his televised remarks.
Trump made a similar call to strengthen background checks after the February 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The president ultimately walked back his support for raising the minimum age for purchasing firearms after he met with leaders of the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying group who opposed his apparent endorsement of universal background checks for gun purchases. Trump has also threatened to veto bills passed by the House of Representatives seeking to codify the checks into federal law.
Saturday’s shooting in El Paso is at least the third mass shooting this year where a suspect is believed to have posted to 8chan in advance of an attack. 8chan, or Infinite Chan, is a right-wing online messaging board known for its racist, bigoted and anti-Semitic content, according to authorities.
Law enforcement officials in El Paso said on Saturday that they were investigating a document posted on 8chan, which they believe was written by Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old alleged shooter. Titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” the four-page document is believed to have included language espoused by the white nationalist movement, as well as a warning about the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Those words directly echoed Trump’s continued warnings of “an invasion” at the southern border ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“The suspect wrote that his views ‘predate Trump,’ as if anticipating the political debate that would follow the blood bath,” Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear wrote in the New York Times. “But if Mr. Trump did not originally inspire the gunman, he has brought into the mainstream polarizing ideas and people once consigned to the fringes of American society.”
The alleged motive for Saturday’s shooting in El Paso has renewed focus on Trump’s rhetoric at his rallies and on social media as it relates to Mexico, immigrants and his history of reluctance in rejecting white nationalism.
Trump has denied responsibility for inciting violence in the past. Earlier this year, Democrats rebuked him for failing to condemn white nationalism and racism after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more in an act of terrorism. The New Zealand gunman allegedly praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” and referred to immigrants as “invaders within our lands” in a manifesto shared to social media prior to the attack.
Trump’s name or rhetoric has been cited in other cases relating to violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault. In recent days, many Democrats have argued that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric immigration has contributed to the bloodshed.
“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who is vying to take on Trump in 2020, told reporters Sunday at a vigil in El Paso for victims of the shooting. “He’s not tolerating racism — he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence — he’s inciting racism and violence in this country.”
During his televised address on Monday, however, Trump condemned white supremacy, saying “hate has no place in our country.” The president added that the shootings were evidence of “mental illness and hatred,” as he attempted to strike a rare bipartisan tune.
“We are a loving nation, and our children are entitled to grow up in a just, peaceful and loving society,” he said. “Together, we lock arms to shoulder the grief. We ask God in heaven to ease the anguish of those who suffer, and we vow to act with urgent resolve.”
“These barbaric slaughters are an assault upon our communities, and attack upon our nation and a crime against all humanity. We are outraged and sickened by this monstrous evil, the cruelty, the hatred, the malice, the bloodshed and the terror,” he added. “America weeps for the fallen.”
“Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love. America will rise to the challenge. We always have, and we always will win. The choice is ours and ours alone. It is not up to mentally-ill monsters — it is up to us,” Trump said. “If we are able to pass great legislation after all of these years, we will ensure that those attacks will not have died in vain.”
Trump thanked law enforcement officials who responded to the atrocities and said he has spoken with Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Mike DeWine of Ohio, as well as Mayors Dee Margo of El Paso and Nan Whaley of Dayton.
The president said he has been in close contact with Attorney General William Barr and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, noting he directed them to provided “whatever” assistance was needed.
He also extended his condolences to Mexico, who is looking into taking legal action against the U.S. after six Mexican nationals were killed and seven others were injured in the El Paso massacre.