On Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., an avowed neo-Nazi plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing Heather Heyer. A white man killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October. In March, a white Australian man massacred more than 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. Last weekend, a 21-year-old white man allegedly drove 10 hours to a Walmart in El Paso, opening fire on shoppers. At least 22 people were murdered, most of them Hispanic.
These are all the sons of President Trump.
So, too, is Cesar A. Sayoc Jr., sentenced this week to 20 years in prison for sending homemade pipe bombs to prominent figures he deemed enemies of the president. That none of the bombs detonated is beside the point. Sayoc wanted to maim and kill people the president often criticized and mocked.
What links these men to the president is deeper than biology, though I suspect they likely have similar hearts devoid of empathy and brains atrophied from racist animosity. Men who murder in the name of white nationalism share Trump’s ideological DNA. They are bound to him by foundational beliefs about race and supremacy that have been sustained for centuries by rhetoric and laws, the lash and noose, and bombs and bullets.
On the Sunday morning talk shows, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, claimed the suspected El Paso shooter harbored racist thoughts “for a long time, even before President Trump got elected.” While that may be true, this is also a fact: Trump’s own words echoed in the accused murderer’s desultory manifesto.
It’s one thing to hold a personal grudge against black and brown people. It’s quite another when the president articulates those fears and resentments, intoning in uncoded language that for America to be great again, these people should “go back” wherever they came from.
The El Paso shooter railed against “fake news” and warned of what he called a “Hispanic invasion.” According to a Boston Globe analysis, Trump has used variations of “invasion” at least 33 times in tweets, interviews, and speeches since last fall. On Facebook, Trump’s reelection campaign has posted more than 2,000 ads with the word “invasion.”
The New Zealand massacre suspect called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” The man accused of targeting Jews in Pittsburgh spoke of a “caravan” of Central American migrants threatening this country, the same term Trump used to whip up anti-immigrant panic before the 2018 midterm elections.
This is why the president’s recent condemation of racism and white supremacy was such an empty exercise. Reading words crafted by some speechwriter, he meant none of it. If he did, he would have specifically mentioned and lifted the Latinx communities in El Paso and beyond, shaken to their core by this devastating hate crime. Of course, he didn’t because that is not what his base wants to hear.
Every wave of violent white terrorism is predicated on the idea that America was created by and for white people. This ignores the fact that ours is a stolen land, one built on the brutal subjugation of an entire race for nearly 350 years. With Trump illuminating their path, his ideological kin are acting out their patriarchal pathology, putting lives and democracy at risk.
At a May rally in Florida, Trump asked how migrants could be stopped from crossing the southern border. When someone shouted, “Shoot ’em,” Trump smiled, then joked, “That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.” The crowd whooped and cheered.
Remember those cheers the next time — and in this nation, there’s always a next time — a white man hears Trump’s ugly words as a call to action. Hate may have “no place in this country,” as Trump said after the El Paso massacre, but as his “sons” recognize, it sure has made itself mighty comfortable in the White House.