By Beto O’Rourke
Two years ago today a Texas man killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso.
In the manifesto he published shortly before the murders he wrote that he’d come to repel the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” language that echoed what former President Donald Trump used to describe immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
A USA Today report found that Trump had used the words “predator,” “invasion,” “alien,” “killer,” “criminal” and “animal” at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times.
The newly emboldened white supremacy movement, the extraordinarily easy access to powerful firearms. The killer’s mother, after discovering that her son had purchased an AK-47, called the Allen, Texas, police department asking for help. Unfortunately, it is perfectly legal in Texas to buy a weapon originally designed for war, and so there was nothing they could do for her, or for the 23 people who would be murdered in El Paso.
The constant scapegoating of immigrants by President Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the modern Republican Party made this possible.
And so did everyone who turned a blind eye to what was happening in this country.
It’s tempting for some to chalk the El Paso killings up to mental illness, violent video games, or lack of religion (Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blamed them on all three). That would allow us to “move on,” and absolve us of responsibility.
But it should be clear to us that the Walmart shooting is an example of the white supremacist terrorism that is more prevalent in this country today than at any time since the last era of Jim Crow.
We see it in the white, masked gunmen who mass on the steps of state capitols across the country, seeking to intimidate lawmakers and the public; we see it in Klansmen and Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville; we see it in a Michigan militia’s attempt to kidnap and execute Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; we see it in the insurrectionists carrying Confederate battle flags into the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, where five people including a capitol police officer were killed in an attempt to violently overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
And we see it in the effort to entrench white power in state legislatures across this country at the expense of minority voters through aggressive racial gerrymandering and voter suppression laws.
That’s what we’re up against today. That’s what El Paso was up against on Aug. 3, 2019.
And that’s what we’ll be up against for as long as we accept this as our fate.
But we don’t have to. As long as we’re willing to acknowledge that it is happening, call it out where we see it, and fight like hell to overcome it, we have a chance to come through.
Here are some things we can do:
Pass legislation that will significantly reduce access to firearms intended for use in war, along with universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders; vigorously pursue prosecution against white supremacist terrorists and those who fund and encourage them; reject all language and policies that seek to dehumanize immigrants; and stop the rollback of voting rights in this country by passing pro-democracy legislation like the For the People Act.
Today, my thoughts are with the survivors from Aug. 3, 2019 and the family members who lost a loved one on that day. We can only imagine their grief and the pain that this anniversary brings them.
But to truly honor them, let us devote ourselves to fighting the forces that brought such unspeakable evil and death to our community and that continue to threaten the future of this country.
I hope you will continue to join me in this work.
Beto O’Rourke is a former member of Congress from El Paso.
Cover photo: New York artist Adam Fujita designed and painted the mural on Schuster Avenue a gift to El Paso after the mass shooting in Walmart. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)