As is often the case, there was a wide gulf between President Trump’s responses on Twitter and in prepared remarks to the twin mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.
On Twitter, Trump blamed the media, saying that the press “has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years,” because it wasn’t “fair, balanced and unbiased.” Without a fair press — to him, the subtext made clear — the shootings would continue. Maybe there could be an expansion of background checks, he also wrote, but only paired with some sort of immigration reform.
In his prepared remarks? None of the histrionics about the media or suggestions that if the Democrats got something — fewer mass murders — the Republicans should get something, too. Instead, reading from a teleprompter, Trump solemnly outlined a number of other causes of the weekend’s killings.
They were not necessarily the ones you would expect.
These speeches by Trump play an important role in his presidency. Trump’s natural mode is his Twitter persona, riffing on whatever pops into his head (often via the electrical signals his eyes are sending him from what’s on Fox News), regardless of the politics. The scripted speeches, though, are an anchor for his supporters, getting the Right Words on record for his allies to point to. You think Trump gives white nationalism a pass and endorses rhetoric, policies and programs that racists celebrate? Why, look right here: Trump said, and I quote, “Our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” Done and done!
In this particular scripted speech, Trump outlined five broad categories where blame for the attacks might lie. The one he talked about the most was the Internet and social media, which he described as “a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds.” He said 30 percent more about the Internet than he did about the obviously racist motivation undergirding the attack in El Paso.
- The Internet and social media: 105 words, 9 percent of the speech
- Racism and hatred: 80 words, 6.7 percent
- Mental illness and evil: 62 words, 5.3 percent
- Access to guns: 53 words, 4.6 percent
- Video games: 29 words, 2.5 percent
At the bottom of this article, we’ve published the entire script of Trump’s remarks, highlighting the words used in the above tally.
That Trump focused primarily on the Internet is neither entirely unwarranted nor entirely unexpected. Bellingcat’s Robert Evans detailed how the website 8chan has been at the center of a number of recent racist attacks, providing a platform where racists not only share rhetoric but also encourage one another to commit acts of violence. The spread of racist ideas on social media has been noted many times before — including when Trump himself has offered questionable or overtly racist rhetoric on the platforms.
It’s also the case that Trump has put a focus on social media companies in recent months, an outgrowth of a movement on the right in which these companies are seen as unfairly targeting for exclusion conservatives and conservative lines of argument. Trump has argued that he sees these companies as blocking his allies — but now argues that they’re not blocking far-right rhetoric sufficiently. One Twitter employee who spoke with Vice argued that the platform was having trouble differentiating between politically acceptable rhetoric targeting Muslims and immigrants — like Trump’s — with rhetoric embraced by explicit white nationalists.
Trump’s comments about racism Monday were similar to what he said in his second pass at a response to the violence in Charlottesville in 2017. (These were the comments about racists that have often been hailed by his allies, as above, but which he undercut shortly after by declaring that both sides in the violence had “fine people.”) His comments about mental illness and evil were similarly consistent with his past commentary on mass shootings. When it’s not a Muslim or immigrant who’s committing the crime, Trump is quick to ascribe mental illness as a motivation.
He did also point out that guns were too easy to access, though that was after his comments about mental illness and seemed to flow from that thought. Guns are too easy to access for “those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety” — a formality that doesn’t seem to apply to the suspects in either El Paso or Dayton.
In keeping with others in his party, Trump also cited violent video games as a possible cause of the violence. As we’ve noted before, it’s only in the United States, where guns are readily available, that there’s a correlation between video game sales and gun violence.
In his remarks Monday, Trump explicitly gave guns themselves a pass as a factor in the shootings, saying that “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun.”
The guns, too, are just victims in all of this.
Full text, with highlights
My fellow Americans, this morning our nation is overcome with shock, horror and sorrow. This weekend, more than 80 people were killed or wounded in two evil attacks.
On Saturday morning in El Paso, Texas, a wicked man went to a Walmart store where families were shopping with their loved ones. He shot and murdered 20 people and injured 26 others, including precious little children.
Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, in Dayton, Ohio, another twisted monster opened fire on a crowded downtown street. He murdered nine people, including his own sister, and injured 27 others.
The first lady and I join all Americans in praying and grieving for the victims, their families and the survivors. We will stand by their side forever. We will never forget.
These barbaric slaughters are an assault upon our communities, an attack upon our nation and a crime against all of humanity. We are outraged and sickened by this monstrous evil: the cruelty, the hatred, the malice, the bloodshed and the terror. Our hearts are shattered for every family whose parents, children, husbands and wives were ripped from their arms and their lives.
America weeps for the fallen. We are a loving nation, and our children are entitled to grow up in a just, peaceful and loving society.
Together, we lock arms to shoulder the grief. We ask God in heaven to ease the anguish of those who suffer. And we vow to act with urgent resolve.
I want to thank the many law enforcement personnel who responded to these atrocities with the extraordinary grace and courage of American heroes.
I have spoken with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, as well as Mayor Dee Margo of El Paso, Texas, and Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, to express our profound sadness and our unfailing support.
Today, we also send the condolences of our nation to President Obrador of Mexico and all the people of Mexico for the loss of their citizens in the El Paso shooting. Terrible, terrible thing.
I have also been in close contact with Attorney General Barr and FBI Director Wray. Federal authorities are on the ground and I have directed them to provide any and all assistance required; whatever is needed.
The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.
We have asked the FBI to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism; whatever they need.
We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet and stop mass murders before they start.
The Internet, likewise, is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored.
In the two decades since Columbine, our nation has watched with rising horror and dread as one mass shooting has followed another, over and over again, decade after decade. We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion.
In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people. Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided. We must seek real bipartisan solutions — we have to do that in a bipartisan manner — that will truly make America safer and better for all.
First, we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs.
I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.
As an example, the monster in the Parkland High School in Florida had many red flags against him and yet nobody took decisive action, nobody did anything. Why not?
Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.
We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately. Cultural change is hard, but each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. That's what we have to do.
Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.
Fourth, we must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.
Today, I'm also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively and without years of needless delay.
These are just a few of the areas of cooperation that we can pursue. I am open and ready to listen and discuss all ideas that will actually work and make a very big difference.
Republicans and Democrats have proven that we can join together in a bipartisan fashion to address this plague. Last year, we enacted the Stop School Violence and Fix NICS Acts into law, providing grants to improve school safety and strengthening critical background checks for firearm purchases. At my direction, the Department of Justice banned bump stocks. Last year, we prosecuted a record number of firearms offenses. But there is so much more that we have to do.
Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love. Our future is in our control. America will rise to the challenge. We will always have, and we always will win.
The choice is ours and ours alone. It is not up to mentally ill monsters, it is up to us. If we are able to pass great legislation after all of these years, we will ensure that those who were attacked will not have died in vain.
May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo and may God protect them. May God protect all of those from Texas to Ohio. May God bless the victims and their families. May God bless America.