El Paso News is proud to introduce our newest column: Frontera Report with Aldo Mena.
By: Aldo Mena
It’s been four years since a Trump-inspired white supremacist from a suburb near Dallas drove to an El Paso Walmart and executed what can only be described as the worst massacre of ethnic Mexicans in modern American history.
When the attack was over, the gunman, Patrick Crusius, had managed to kill 22 people. A twenty-third victim would die from his injuries approximately nine months later.
By this point, it is well established that the gunman was targeting people of Mexican descent. In the online manifesto posted by the gunman prior to the shooting, he clearly articulated his desire to kill Mexicans in order to prevent the “invasion” of his beloved Texas. And, following his arrest, the gunman would openly admit to investigators that he came to El Paso with the express intention of killing as many Mexicans as possible.
Crusius pleaded guilty in February to 90 charges in connection with the shooting and was sentenced in early July to 90 consecutive life sentences. Although the July sentencing marks the end of the federal criminal proceedings against him, he still faces state charges and the very tangible prospect of the death penalty following the state trial expected to occur sometime in either 2024 or 2025.
With the federal sentencing completed and the state trial on the horizon, it’s easy to succumb to the logic that some measure of justice has been achieved. The gunman is, of course, accountable at an immediate level for the shooting. But there are others who also bear responsibility for what happened in El Paso on that terrible day in August four years ago.
There’s Donald Trump to be specific. On the campaign trail and as president, Trump was fond of invoking the Great Replacement Theory, a staple of white nationalist ideology, routinely warning that America was being “invaded” and “under attack” by immigrants heading for the U.S.-Mexico border.
And, in case there was ever any doubt, Trump made it abundantly clear who the enemy in this scenario was. He rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate Mexicans launching his campaign by calling them “rapists” and “criminals.” Among other things, he promised to build a wall that Mexico would pay for and proposed the creation of a deportation force reminiscent to some of the Kristallnacht.
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Not surprisingly, much of the anti-Mexican sentiment that fueled Trump’s candidacy and subsequent presidency was directed at Mexican Americans. There’s the time, for example, when Trump unceremoniously kicked Jorge Ramos out of a press conference and another time when he maligned a distinguished Mexican American federal judge named Gonzalo Curiel as “too Mexican” to preside over a civil case involving Trump’s so-called “university.”
It was no coincidence, of course, that Trump’s political ascent was accompanied by a series of ugly incidents in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan in which Trump supporters invoked the themes and symbols of Trumpism to taunt, harass, and intimidate Mexican Americans. Although it garnered limited local media attention at the time, there was even an ugly incident in El Paso at an Applebee’s on the Westside.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism that would emerge in the aftermath of the shooting, the gunmen wrote in his manifesto that his views predated Trump. This is a stating the obvious. No one has ever claimed that Trump developed the white supremacist ideology that inspired the gunman. Trump is many things but he is definitely not an idealogue. The Great Replacement Theory that Trump so often cited was an idea whose origins can be traced to a canonical text of white supremacy entitled “Camp of the Saints” by Jean Raspail. What is being is asserted, however, is that Trump’s use and endorsement of this rhetoric brought ideas once confined to the fringes of American political discourse to the mainstream, and, in the process, managed to directly inspire an act of violence against people of Mexican descent.
There’s a term for what Trump was doing. It’s called stochastic terrorism which can be defined as the calculated public demonization of a person or group designed to result in the incitement of violence against that person or group. This term is most often referenced in the context of Islamic terrorist activity, but its use certainly seems applicable in this situation.
But it wasn’t just Trump. There were many others who trafficked in this dangerous rhetoric who also bear responsibility for the attack. Let’s not forget that during a visit to El Paso as part of a propaganda tour of the U.S.- Mexico border in April of 2017, former U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, that walking, talking monument to the Confederacy, zealously deployed invasion rhetoric calling the border near El Paso “ground zero” and characterizing it is a “sliver of land” where the United States would eventually establish a “beachhead.”
Gov. Greg Abbott also bears responsibility. As reported by the Texas Tribune, one day before the shooting, Abbott circulated a two-page fundraising mailer in which he “spoke in alarmist terms about the need to ‘DEFEND’ Texas at the border.” Abbott would explain in the mailer that the “national Democrat machine, has made no secret of the fact that it hopes to ‘turn Texas blue.’” If the Democrats can do it in California, he warned, “they can do it in Texas — if we let them.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, in an interview featured on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” explained that Trump “has made my community and my people the enemy.” She would accordingly ask Trump not to visit El Paso. When Trump visited anyways, she refused to meet with him.
Beto O’Rourke, who at the time of the shooting was a Democratic presidential candidate, would also condemn Trump’s rhetoric tweeting “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism.” Following the federal sentencing of the gunman, O’Rourke would tweet that “true justice would address the guilt of those who stoked fears of ‘invasion,’” and “told Texans to ‘take matters into their own hands.’”
Four years later, however, it’s not exactly certain whether the larger truth about why this tragic incident occurred will continue to be told. Recognition of the catalytic role that anti-Mexican rhetoric played in the attack appears to be waning to say the least. And those of us who have insisted that this feature of the attack continue to be acknowledged have been admonished by some people in our community to stop “politicizing” the shooting and forget the political figures who spawned this terrible act of hatred.
About Frontera Report:
Aldo N. Mena is a local educator, podcaster, freelance writer, and native El Pasoan who enjoys exploring issues of relevance to the Mexican American community. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where he received a B.A. in English and Political Science, and an M.A. in Latin American Studies with a research concentration in late colonial/early national period Mexican history. Aldo is the columnist behind the Frontera Report With Aldo Mena.
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