EL PASO — Grappling with the aftermath of the mass shooting that that left at least 20 people dead and at least two dozen others injured in his hometown of El Paso, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke denounced the “hatred that I have never seen in my lifetime” late Saturday and pointed fingers at President Donald Trump.
Asked whether “any of this fall[s] at the feet of Donald Trump,” O’Rourke answered with a firm “yes.”
“We've had a rise in hate crimes every single one of the last three years," O'Rourke told a group of reporters outside University Medical Center Saturday. "During an administration where you've had the president call Mexicans rapists and criminals."
O’Rourke, who served three terms as a congressman from El Paso, referenced online writings railing against immigrants that may have been written by the suspected shooter that are currently under investigation by El Paso police as a potential “nexus to a hate crime” and said they could be linked to Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants and four congresswomen of color.
“He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country, and it does not just offend our sensibilities; it fundamentally changes the character of this country, and it leads to violence,” O’Rourke said.
A spokesman for the El Paso Police Department emphasized in a briefing late Saturday that police have yet to confirm the link between the online writings that appeared on the website 8chan and the shooter.
O’Rourke, who cut his campaign trip to Nevada short and had been visiting with victims of the shooting Saturday evening, praised the strength of the victims and said “it takes something so foreign to El Paso to do something like this in El Paso.”
Earlier Saturday, Trump called the shooting “an act of cowardice” and said “there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”
Before O’Rourke spoke in El Paso, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush called the shooting an act of “white terrorism” and said that “this is a real and present threat that we must all denounce and defeat.”
The FBI was reviewing whether to classify he crime as a hate crime, an act of domestic terrorism or some other federal crime.