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Reflections on El Paso Massacre and Deadly Consequences of Dehumanizing Rhetoric

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“Violent rhetoric too often leads to lawlessness and violence”


Two years ago today, a white supremacist who claimed he was combatting an “invasion” of “Mexicans” drove across Texas to kill 23 innocent people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. His “manifesto” was a chilling regurgitation of anti-immigrant tropes and talking points pushed by Republican politicians, right-wing media and anti-immigrant hate groups and was described by one leader of an anti-immigrant group as “remarkably well-written for a 21-year-old loner.” 

The massacre should have chastened Republican politicians who were stoking anti-immigrant fear and xenophobia. Yet rather than a chastened GOP seriously wrestling with how its dehumanizing rhetoric and fear-mongering has contributed to deadly attacks – El Paso and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh are just two examples – the GOP refuses to take responsibility or rein in its ugly fear-mongering. In particular, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton have doubled down on the kind of xenophobic rhetoric that led to the El Paso massacre. 

And violence is not  limited to the immigration context, as we saw on January 6 and in violent responses to demonstrations against police violence. Below is a collection of some of the observers who have pointed out the consequences of the incendiary rhetoric and its proven dangers in inciting violence, including:

  • Mario Carrillo, El Paso native and Campaigns Manager for America’s Voice (see complete reflection here and in Spanish here) “…Following the attack in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott and other elected officials conceded that language matters and they should be more mindful of the words they use. But his actions these days suggest he wasn’t sincere and he doesn’t care. With an election coming up, Abbott is peddling fear, nativism and xenophobia in order to mobilize angry white voters and to distract from his own failures at keeping Texans safe.“…Gov. Abbott, please look back on the anniversary of this horrid attack and see it as I do: as a stain on our state and a deep wound to our country’s moral conscience. Stop using language and stoking fear that could lead to more violence. Enact policies that help all of us. I’m not holding out much hope for you, but I hope others will join in and call for a Texas that sees all of its residents – Brown and Black, White and Asian, native-born and foreign-born – as worthy of safety, survival and dignity.”


  • President Joe Biden, op-ed in El Paso Times, “On El Paso shooting anniversary, we must ‘stand united against hate and violence‘”: “In the days after the shooting, I said we must join together as Americans and stand united against hate and violence. I believe that with even greater resolve and urgency today. We must all work together to defend our values, our democracy, and our freedom to live together peacefully.  We owe it to the families of El Paso. We owe it to each other and for the soul of our very country.”
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso in Congress, to El Paso Matters on Gov. Abbott and Republican leadership in Texas: “Not only has he not done anything, but we’ve gone in the opposite direction, the more dangerous direction on so many fronts … They know full well that their xenophobic racist rhetoric feeds hatred, and they know full well that that hatred fuels violence. And who are the victims of the violence? It is, we have seen in Texas, vulnerable communities like ours.”
  • Gabe Ortiz in Daily Kos, “Greg Abbott’s ‘message is not subtle: ‘Brown-skinned people are a threat,’ advocate says”: There are several other guilty parties here assisting the governor in his racist attacks. When Abbott prematurely lifted pandemic restrictions earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick similarly pointed his finger at asylum-seeking families. Patrick is no stranger to this either, with his own history of racist bullcrap that goes back years.”
  • Maribel Hastings and David Torres in their latest column for America’s Voice en Español,   write about the dangers of the Republicans’ hateful rhetoric: “The El Paso masacre is a reminder of the effect that hate speech can have on sick minds. The January 6 assault on the Capitol was another reminder of this fact. Unfortunately, we have not seen the final chapter of the damage that this rhetoric, racism, and prejudice are capable of inflicting… One of the main reasons is that the seeds of hate, prejudice, and discrimination sown by former President Donald Trump have germinated, and continue bearing nefarious fruits.”
  • Jazmine Ulloa in the Boston Globe, “Stoking fears of immigrants has been part of the Republican platform for decades. But something is different this time:” “Tough talk on border security and immigration has long been a staple of Republican politics, particularly during primaries, when politicians often vow to crack down on illegal immigration. But Trump took the rhetoric to a new level in both volume and intensity as president, frequently complaining of an ‘invasion’ of nameless immigrants and depicting border crossers as criminals and ‘killers’ in his rally speeches.

    “That overwrought ‘invasion’ language, which Republican officials are now echoing to criticize Biden’s border policies, plays into far right and, explicitly, white supremacist tropes that fuel anxiety among white voters about the dilution of their political power, historians and political analysts said, and that could have deadly consequences. Two recent white supremacist shooting suspects, Robert Bowers in Pittsburgh and Patrick Crusius in El Paso, Texas, cited ‘invaders’ and a ‘Hispanic invasion’ in the lead-up to their crimes.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:  “Violent rhetoric too often leads to lawlessness and violence. Texas politicians aren’t alone in fueling violence-inspired rhetoric, but they certainly are leading the way. We watch in horror when violence erupts in shopping malls, at mosques in synagogues and inside the U.S. Capitol. But the behavior of so-called leaders does not change. Elected leaders should know better.”