Trump Condemns White Supremacy After Facing Blame for Shootings
U.S. President Donald Trump pauses while speaking to members of the media in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Condemns White Supremacy After Facing Blame for Shootings

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump delivered his most forceful condemnation of racism and white supremacy following shootings over the weekend that killed 31 people, after Democrats said his own racially divisive and anti-immigrant rhetoric had incited the violence.

Trump said he had ordered federal officials to work with social media companies to identify people who may perpetrate mass shootings before they can act. But he did not call for new restrictions on gun ownership, instead blaming the attacks on mental illness and cultural depictions of violence, including video games.

The president confirmed during remarks Monday at the White House that an attacker who killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday “posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate.” The document, published minutes before the attack began, was laced with words and phrases Trump has used in reference to immigrants and the media and indicated the shooter’s motive was political, to stop Texas from flipping to Democrats in the 2020 election.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

The El Paso shooting and subsequent attack in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday led to renewed calls for measures to curb mass shootings while fueling criticism of Trump’s own public remarks. Several Democrats said Trump is responsible for sowing the seeds of white-nationalist terrorism in the country. Nine were killed in Dayton, while the 21st and 22nd El Paso victims died Monday morning from injuries.

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The president said he would support a so-called “red flag” law that would allow courts to take weapons away from people reported as potentially dangerous. But he also endorsed explanations for the shootings that are frequently adopted by Republican and gun-rights groups opposed to further regulation of firearms.

“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” Trump said. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

Decades of research into violent video games has not established a link to real-life violence, and the same games played in the U.S. are available in other developed countries with far lower incidences of murder and mass shootings.

“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Trump also said. It’s not known whether either the El Paso or Dayton attackers had been diagnosed with mental illness.

At one point in his speech, which he mostly read off a teleprompter, Trump misidentified the Ohio city where the second attack took place. “May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo,” he said.

Trump’s scrutiny of social media may also be misplaced. Sites such as Facebook have been used to publish screeds or videos linked to previous shootings, but the alleged El Paso shooter used a fringe site, 8Chan, to post his manifesto. Facebook recently has pushed to clamp down on hate speech, announcing in March that it will ban content that references white nationalism and white separatism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that Trump is beholden to the gun lobby.

Democrats have demanded the Republican-controlled Senate interrupt its August recess to pass the background checks legislation, a call Pelosi and Schumer renewed on Monday. Trump gave no indication he planned on joining them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fractured his shoulder in a fall over the weekend, and will be working from home in Kentucky for now.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement after Trump’s remarks that he had reached an agreement with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a vocal proponent of more aggressive gun regulation, to create federal grants to help states establish “red flag” programs.

‘Stokes Racism’

Democratic presidential candidates have said Trump is responsible, directly or indirectly, for spurring attacks like the one in El Paso. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native, said Trump “is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country.” Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden said Trump is giving “safe harbor to hate” and that “gives license to extremism all across the country.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has called for bipartisan action on guns following a massacre. Two weeks after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Trump convened an extraordinary meeting of top Democrats and Republicans, and indicated he would push through universal background checks and other measures.

But he backed away from strengthening background checks, a policy fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Instead, Trump pushed for -- and Congress passed -- more limited measures: one to improve information in the government’s background check database and one to provide grants for school security. He touted those measures on Monday as examples of bipartisan action.

The newly Democratic House has already passed legislation that would make it harder for prospective gun buyers to elude background checks, but those bills haven’t gone anywhere in the Republican-led Senate.

Two senators who have written expanded background checks legislation said in a statement that they had spoken to Trump about the bill on Monday. “The president showed a willingness to work with us on the issue of strengthening background checks,” Senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said in the statement.

But Trump indicated in a tweet earlier Monday that he would exact a price for advancing background checks legislation, suggesting it be combined with his own proposals to restrict immigration. Democrats oppose most of his immigration policies, and an attempt to link the two issues would raise the chances they both remain stalled.

Racially Divisive President

Trump has repeatedly stoked racial divisions in the U.S. before and since becoming president. He called Mexican migrants rapists, sought to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S. and said there were “good people” on both sides of a violent Charlottesville clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters.

He recently urged four minority congresswomen to “go back” where they came from. All of them are U.S. citizens and three of the women were born in the U.S. The comment prompted a Trump rally crowd in North Carolina to chant “send her back” about Representative Ilhan Omar, an American citizen who was born in Somalia.

As recently as June, Trump described migration across the southern border as an “invasion,” a phrase the El Paso suspect also used. Trump spent a recent weekend attacking Elijah Cummings, a prominent black Democratic lawmaker who chairs the House Oversight and Reform committee. and described majority-black Baltimore, in Cummings’s district, as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Trump spent the weekend ensconced at his New Jersey golf club. He made a brief public appearance late Sunday, where he boasted about his record on gun laws so far, but allowed that “perhaps more has to be done.” Early Monday, Trump blamed the media for fostering anger and rage, and said he’d perhaps back “strong background checks” if paired with “desperately needed immigration reform.”

He did not mention an immigration overhaul or call for enhanced background checks in his White House remarks, and he took no questions from reporters.

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