On Saturday, after news broke that a gunman opened fire on shoppers in El Paso, Texas, a number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates denounced white nationalism and the epidemic of gun violence in America.
One by one, the candidates spoke to a gaggle of reporters covering the AFSCME Public Service Forum in Las Vegas about the shooting; issuing statements, plans and condolences for 20 killed and 26 injured.
A visibly upset Beto O’Rourke was one of the first to deliver a statement shortly after news broke that there was an active shooter at a Walmart in El Paso. He said he’d be canceling multiple days of campaign events in Nevada and California to return to his hometown to be with his family and former constituents.
“We know that there’s a lot of injury, a lot of suffering in El Paso right now,” O’Rourke said. “I’m incredibly sad and it’s hard to think about this.”
Every candidate who spoke following the shooting addressed it, while several explicitly spoke out against white nationalism and few linked the shooting to the president.
Among those with the most candor was South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who named white nationalist violence as one of the greatest threats to the nation’s security. El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said authorities were looking into the shooter’s motivations and said there may be a “nexus to a hate crime.”
“America is under attack by lethal, violent white nationalist terrorism,” Buttigieg said. “… This is a national security emergency. It is killing Americans just as it is killing people around the world.”
He said that until the nation is ready to confront the rash of racially motivated violence it has suffered — and implement reforms to gun laws — it will remain vulnerable to domestic terrorist attacks. The tragedy in El Paso was 250th mass shooting in America in 2019.
Buttigieg, when asked about why he was qualified to comment on white nationalism, cited his military record. According to documents obtained by ABC 57 in South Bend, the mayor was placed in the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell (AFTC). The documents said the AFTC often “identifies and disrupts Taliban, Al-Qaida and other insurgent financial support networks in Afghanistan.”
“Counterterrorism was my specialty in the military, and I know a little bit about what’s involved,” Buttigieg said. “I specialized in dealing with terrorism abroad, but I learned a lot that, sadly, will be applicable here at home.”
The mayor, who is polling around 6 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics’ average, also took a jab at Donald Trump, stopping just short of placing the onus of the massacre on his shoulders.
“The President of the United States is condoning white nationalism,” Buttigieg said. “White nationalism is one of the evils that is motivating and inspiring at least some people to go kill Americans. The president has a responsibility to nip this in the bud.”
He said the government needs to develop a national strategy to prioritize resources to deradicalizing and defending from white nationalist violence.
Trump took to Twitter to give statements on the shooting. In one tweet, he pledged the full support of the federal government to Gov. Greg Abbott. In another, he said “it was an act of cowardice” and he condemned the “hateful act.”
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee similarly decried the act of violence and went further in accusing the president of being complicit by way of his divisive rhetoric and race relations.
“The first order of business to reduce white nationalism is to eliminate white nationalism in our White House,” Inslee said. “The sentiments of fear and division, and outright racism, that this president has emboldened out to be sickening to anyone.”
He went on to remark that fear and division are “Donald Trump’s stock-in-trade” and that the country deserves someone who work to heal its historically wounded relationship with race.