“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy," said Trump, who has a history of ambivalent comments about white nationalists
Following a weekend of bloodshed that killed 31 people in two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday to condemn “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” amid criticism that his years of inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants and minorities “inspires” the shooters.
Trump, 73, spoke for just under 10 minutes from the White House on Monday morning and vowed to act with “urgent resolve” as he linked radicalized violence with internet forums, mental illness, social media and video games. He also called for reformed laws regarding gun ownership and mental illness.
“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate,” Trump said, referring to the 21-year-old whom authorities said opened fire in a Walmart on Saturday, killing 22 people before being taken into custody.
“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” said Trump, who has a history of ambivalent comments about white nationalists, sometimes declining to condemn them outright.
“These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” he continued. “Hate has no place in America.”
A source close to the investigation previously told PEOPLE that the suspected El Paso shooter is believed to have written a manifesto with white nationalist themes.
Though the New York Times reported that the suspect wrote that his views “predate Trump,” it wasn’t long before the manifesto’s themes were linked to the president, who has repeatedly used language that rails against immigrants and minorities.
Both the suspect and the president have described a coming “invasion” of Latin American immigrants.
On Sunday, John Legend, a vocal Trump critic, contended his rhetoric was an inspiration for the shooting.
“When we condemn the racist venom coming from the President’s mouth and point out the bigotry of his policies, it’s not an academic question, it’s not a political game, it’s about life and death,” Legend wrote. “The President regularly inspires killers. He is a part of the problem.”
Comedian John Oliver also argued Trump created an environment were “white nationalism and anti-immigrant hysteria … can fester and indeed thrive.”
On Sunday, the Last Week Tonight host made reference on his show to a specific instance from a rally in Florida earlier this year in which Trump posed a question to the audience about ways to stop immigrants from entering the U.S.
“Shoot them!” yelled someone in the crowd, to which Trump laughed, smiled and replied, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff.”
“I’m saying that President Trump has a lot to do with what happened in El Paso yesterday,” 2020 presidential hopeful and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said on Face the Nation. “[He] sows the kind of fear, the kind of reaction that we saw in El Paso yesterday.”
The president’s direct condemnation of white supremacy came about two years after he drew widespread ire for not only not immediately rebuking neo-Nazis who had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, but for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of a clash that ended with the murder of a counter-protestor.
As Trump continued his speech on Monday, he devoted a significant portion to decrying what he described as broader social forces that encouraged violent youths — at times recalling politicians from decades ago sounding alarms about the changing culture.
Trump warned of the perils of the internet and social media (where he frequently denigrates his rivals via Twitter), and he claimed that the web has “provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts.”
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He also said he would direct the Department of Justice to partner with local, state and federal agencies in order to “develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,” and he slammed “gruesome and grizzly video games” for glorifying violence.
“We must stop of substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately,” he said of the violence.
Trump further called for legislative changes that would make it more difficult for mentally ill people to obtain weapons. Authorities said both shooters used assault-style high-powered rifles in the massacres.
“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,” Trump said. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
He went on to declare that he hoped to ensure that “those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety” would be unable to access firearms — and that if they did, the weapons could be taken “through rapid due process.”
So-called “red flag” laws allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from a person who shows any dangerous signs of violent behavior. The laws have found support in the National Rifle Association, according to USA Today.
“Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love,” Trump said on Monday. “Our future is in our control.”
He also said he would direct the Department of Justice to propose legislation that would bring the death penalty upon mass murderers and those who commit hate crimes.
El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza said the Walmart suspect was being charged with capital murder and that prosecutors would seek the death penalty, CNN reports. Federal officials have said the shooting appears to be domestic terrorism.
As he concluded his speech on Monday, Trump mistakenly paid his condolences to the people of Toledo, Ohio, instead of Dayton, where a gunman killed nine people on a busy bar street early Sunday. He was quickly killed by police in the area. His motive has not been confirmed.
“May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo, may God protect them,” Trump said. “May God protect all of those from Texas to Ohio. May God bless the victims and their families.”