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(Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE)

In the wake of a blood-soaked weekend, President Trump’s remarks on Monday morning seemed a departure from his customary script. Two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio had returned the country’s focus to its epidemic of gun violence. In the case of the horrific Saturday incident in El Paso — in which investigators suspect the gunman published a white-supremacist screed online before driving to the border city and murdering 22 people — it also shined a light on the increasing threat of white-nationalist terrorism in the country.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said, reacting to the outcry over what happened in El Paso. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

But Trump is an awkward messenger for this sort of unifying rhetoric. The entire story of his presidency is anchored in something altogether different. He has stoked white-nationalist grievances among his base while demonizing, belittling or attacking immigrants and minorities. Just in recent weeks, the president launched tirades against minority congresswomen and spoke of the nation’s inner cities as zones of “infestation." Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and now, as his reelection campaign gets into full swing, he stirred fear and anger about an “invasion” of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, warning of an existential peril marching into the country.

This weekend, a radicalized young man probably convinced of the menace of a “Hispanic invasion” went to a diverse border city and gunned down as many people as he could. It was only the latest in a deeply worrying series of white-supremacist rampages to have hit the United States during Trump’s tenure. The shadow of Trumpian politics hanging over this violence is now impossible to ignore. On the same day the president tried to play a pacifying, uniting role, a Trump supporter who mailed pipe bombs to Democratic politicians was sentenced to 20 years in prison; his attorneys said he been radicalized on a steady diet of Trump’s tweets.

“After yet another mass slaying, the question surrounding the president is no longer whether he will respond as other presidents once did, but whether his words contributed to the carnage,” wrote Philip Rucker, The Washington Post’s White House bureau chief.

Trump and some Republican allies sought to shift attention to mental illness and the misanthropic effects of video game culture. But that’s not a particularly convincing deflection, for many reasons — not least that Trump has never raised either in the aftermath of an attack by a radicalized Islamist on American soil. Instead, he has grandstanded on the menace of Islam and vowed to shut the door to all Muslims in the country.

The violence in El Paso underscored a real problem that Trump, at best, has ignored or, at worst, enabled. U.S. crime data shows a rise in hate crimes in recent years. According to FBI statistics, 40 percent of about 850 pending domestic terrorism cases in the United States involve racially motivated violent extremism, and a majority of those cases involve white supremacists. “Between October and June, there were about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects — and if that trend continues, the total for 2019 would outpace the prior year, when there were about 120 such cases,” reported my colleague Devlin Barrett. “The year before that, about 150 domestic terrorism suspects were arrested.”

Yet, despite numerous warnings from security officials and watchdogs, the Trump administration has not directly taken on the rise of white-supremacist violence — and even cut federal funding and staff previously allocated to countering domestic terrorism. Critics say the president is helping fan the flames of a phenomenon as dangerous as the Islamist militant threat that has dominated the resources and focus of the U.S. security state for the past two decades.

“We’ve seen this movie before in the radicalization of Muslims by internet sermons delivered by charismatic, father-figure clerics who inspire terrorism and martyrdom,” Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of the FBI, wrote in a column for the New York Times, originally published before the massacres of this weekend. He added that the president “has yet to apologize for painting people of color as outsiders and invaders, for calling for them to be sent back to where they came from, and for asserting that no humans would want to live in certain American cities. As a consequence, he has given license to those who feel compelled to eradicate what Mr. Trump himself has called an infestation.”

Security analysts argue that the United States needs to take a more robust approach. “The FBI should follow MI5’s lead, with appropriate safeguards for our constitutional freedoms,” wrote counterterrorism expert and former FBI special agent Ali Soufan, pointing to proactive steps taken in Britain to counter domestic terrorism. “But this can happen only if Congress updates our post-9/11 legislation to allow domestic terror groups to be designated in the same way as foreign ones. This will allow our law-enforcement agencies access to the full suite of monitoring tools and our prosecutors the ability to bring meaningful charges for aiding domestic terrorism.”

There are chilling reasons the FBI may be lagging in its efforts. "I think in many ways the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white-supremacist movement like the old FBI would,” Dave Gomez, a former FBI official, told my colleagues. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor.”

But the threat is here, and it’s not at all dissimilar from the Islamist one Trump has long railed against. In the aftermath of the El Paso attack, focus shifted to the extremist online forum where the alleged shooter possibly posted his racist manifesto. Like disaffected “lone wolf” Islamist militants in the West, many of these violent white supremacists stew in a dark online cesspool of hate.

Trump can’t easily dissociate himself from that cesspool. His political party remains largely in lockstep behind him, while broadcasters on Fox News — arguably the most important influential institution of the American right — echo on a regular basis the sort of anti-immigrant conspiracy theories that apparently inflamed the shooter in El Paso.

And then an outside menace does arrive in an American community.

“There is an obsession about the border and a boogeyman that doesn’t really exist,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), who represents El Paso, in an interview with the New Yorker. “This shooter who came in to commit this massacre came in from the outside. He came into a tranquil, safe, beautiful border community that cares for the stranger, that cares for the vulnerable, that cares for the least among us—and he came here to do us harm.”

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