The grief and sorrow in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso have begun to give way to anger and frustration in advance of President Trump’s planned visits Wednesday, with local leaders and residents increasingly vocal in their assertions that presidential condolences, thoughts and prayers will not be enough.
People are signing petitions, planning protests and, in Dayton, organizing a demonstration featuring an inflated “Baby Trump” to express their discontent with a president whose anti-immigrant rhetoric was echoed by a gunman who killed 22 people in El Paso. And while the motive of the man who killed nine people in Dayton remains unclear, Trump’s silence on the issue of guns has been criticized by local officials who want action to prevent future massacres.
“He’s made this bed and he’s got to lie in it. His rhetoric has been painful for many in our community,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) told reporters Tuesday, adding that she supported the planned protests against Trump. “Watching the president for the past few years over the issue of guns, I don’t think he knows what he believes, frankly.”
The open repudiation of a visiting president in the aftermath of a mass tragedy was striking Tuesday as a growing chorus of critics made clear that Trump would not be universally welcome during a pair of condolence visits that will take Air Force One from the Rust Belt to the southern border.
“Dayton has been through enough, and we don’t want him here or his hateful rhetoric,” said Megan Baxter, a stay-at-home mother and local activist organizing a protest in the city for Wednesday. “I’m just tired of all the killing.”
At a makeshift memorial behind the El Paso Walmart where 22 were fatally shot Saturday, people gathered Tuesday to pray, to cry and to try to heal. Many said Trump’s planned visit was an unnecessary intrusion on the community’s efforts to process the tragedy and mourn the losses.
“Now’s not the time,” said David Nevarez, who describes himself as a veterans’ advocate. “We do not need anybody fanning the flames of hate, anger and racism. There’s enough in this world already.”
Maxine Morales, who was born and raised in El Paso, brought her two children to the memorial. She said the president’s rhetoric about immigration and the border have caused deep wounds in the city.
“At this moment, I’m just filled with anger and frustration and sadness,” Morales said, her voice breaking. “My parents were immigrants. And they came here to better their lives and to make sure that we all had better lives. So that really hits home, and it hurts.”
Authorities think the suspect in the El Paso attack — a 21-year-old who has been charged in the case — is the author of an online statement that denigrated immigrants and warned of a “Hispanic invasion” in Texas.
In a statement Monday, Trump denounced “racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” without acknowledging his own rhetoric — which has at times included warnings of “an invasion” across the southern border. Trump’s language has been embraced by far-right extremists.
The president has offered several proposals for reducing gun violence but has given few specifics and has largely steered clear of anything that would restrict broader access to firearms. Instead, he pointed to “gruesome and grisly video games” and online radicalization as drivers of the kind of violence that left at least 31 people dead in back-to-back mass shootings in the span of about 13 hours last weekend.
In Dayton, residents struggled with a mix of emotions Tuesday including sorrow, confusion and rage as they sought to make sense of how a gunman was able to kill nine people and injure dozens in less than a minute.
Dwayne Cargle stood outside the makeshift memorial where wilting flowers and the wax of melted candles cover the sidewalk, shaking his head.
Two of his friends were in the hospital after being trampled inside a bar as a man used an AR-15-type weapon with 100-round magazines to fire on revelers in Dayton’s Oregon District early Sunday.
“It don’t make no sense,” Cargle, 57, said. “They try to blame it on everything else. They say it’s video games and all this other mess. It’s hate. Plain and simple.”
Jeffrey Fudge, whose brother Derrick was killed in the early-morning rampage, called for limits on the military-style weapon he said was used to gun down his brother as he enjoyed a night out with his son.
“My nephew watched his father die in his arms,” he said. “I’m angry. I’m confused. I don’t think the nation will ever heal if this is the path we are going to take.”
While comforting grief-stricken communities in the wake of tragedy has been a time-honored tradition of politicians, there are growing signs that those affected by mass shootings want more from leaders than standard condolences.
Frustrated chants of “Do something!” drowned out Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s remarks at a Sunday vigil in Dayton. On Tuesday, DeWine (R) announced proposals aimed at curbing gun violence.
Trump could face a similar outpouring of frustration as he visits Dayton and El Paso. The White House declined to provide details of the president’s schedule.
“The President and First Lady are visiting these communities to speak with those affected, and thank the first responders and medical staff for their heroic actions,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
The visits could echo the president’s October trip to Pittsburgh, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest Trump in the wake of a mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 people dead. Police said the alleged attacker had targeted Jewish people on a social media account using anti-refugee language that complained of refugee “invaders” around the same time Trump was railing against caravans of Central American asylum seekers.
Local leaders in El Paso and Dayton have said they would like the chance to address Trump directly to channel the frustration of their constituents.
“There’s a lot of anger out there,” said El Paso City representative Cissy Lizarraga, one of six Latinos on the eight-member city council, wearing black mourning clothes. “What we’re trying to do is to have a unified voice and to try to bring peace and calm in a situation, because that’s what’s going to help to heal our community.”
She said she has been deluged with phone calls and emails about the president’s visit, which many oppose.
“I am in mourning, mourning for my community, and unfortunately a lot of people think that the president somehow is responsible for this,” she said, adding that she did not blame him. But she said she would welcome the opportunity to “look at the president in the face so that he could see the pain that our community is suffering.”
Whaley, the Dayton mayor, said she planned to meet with Trump on Wednesday and would “absolutely” tell him “how unhelpful he’s been.”
She has called for the president to pursue gun-control measures, including a ban on the kind of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines used in last weekend’s attacks.
DeWine stopped short of embracing bans on certain kinds of weaponry in Ohio, saying Tuesday that such issues would have to be dealt with at the federal level. Instead, he called Tuesday for the legislature to pass increased background checks and a law to get guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous. He also backed more focus on mental-health initiatives and stricter penalties for those who purchase firearms illegally.
Some Republicans are showing an openness to new gun restrictions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has so far refused to allow a vote on a universal background check bill passed by the House in February, said Monday that he was willing to work with the White House and Democratic lawmakers on legislation to address mass killings.
In Louisville, Ky., dozens of people upset with McConnell’s inaction on gun control and other legislation held a protest late into the night outside his house. They banged pots and drums — at times even scraping a shovel across a sidewalk.
It was one of several demonstrations calling for stricter gun laws that erupted in cities across the country this week.
Some of the protests, including one Monday in front of NRA headquarters in Northern Virginia, were organized by gun-control organizations hoping to capitalize on public anger. Others seemed more spontaneous, including the Philadelphia Union soccer player who grabbed a microphone during a match Sunday.
“Congress, do something now! End gun violence,” Alejandro Bedoya yelled after scoring a goal.
Democrats running for president have been most forceful in linking Trump’s rhetoric to the attack in El Paso, and pushing for new restrictions on some firearms.
Former congressman Beto O’Rourke, who lives in El Paso, accused Trump of espousing the same white-supremacist views embraced by the suspected attacker. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., called Trump a white nationalist and unveiled a proposal Tuesday to boost federal funding to combat hateful ideology and increase federal research into gun violence.
In Dayton, residents’ unease with Trump was heightened after he misspoke during his nationally televised address on Monday and referred to the city as “Toledo,” said Carin Al-Hamdani, who has organized a protest during the president’s visit.
She and Baxter, the stay-at-home mother, started a GoFundMe account to pay for a 20-foot high “Baby Trump” balloon to be shipped from Chicago, quickly raising more than $2,000. Hamdani, a lawyer, said someone volunteered to drive the balloon to Dayton, and that the money raised would be donated to victims of the shooting.
The Baby Trump balloon — which will be filled with air rather than helium — will be carrying a sign that says, “Welcome to Toledo Dayton! Don’t be a baby — Stand up to the NRA.” On the sign, the word “Toledo” will be crossed out.
Hernández reported from Dayton. Maria Sacchetti and Bob Moore in El Paso, Kevin Williams in Dayton and Hannah Knowles and Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this report.