Above: President Donald Trump speaking to supporters about immigration at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix in 2016.
President Donald Trump has doubled down on the use of Facebook advertising to promote his political message—one that is largely centered on fear-mongering about immigration, specifically that the country is facing an “invasion” at its Southern border.
Now, the president’s xenophobic rhetoric is once again at the forefront after a young white man from Texas allegedly traveled from the Dallas suburbs to the largely Hispanic border town of El Paso and gunned down 22 people at a crowded Walmart. The rampage was in response to what the shooter called “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” according to a manifesto that’s believed to be his.
As many people pointed out, this clearly echoes the type of rhetoric that Trump has used both on the campaign trail and in digital ads. San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro, who chairs the Hispanic Caucus, told the New Republic: “If you look at the shooter’s language and the president’s language they were very similar, and the president has inspired hate and violence, especially against immigrants and Hispanic Americans. My fear is what the shooter says in his manifesto is true—that this is just the beginning because of the president’s rhetoric that he engages in regularly.”
Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign has run about 2,200 ads on Facebook featuring the word “invasion” since May 2018, a figure first flagged by a researcher with the progressive organization Media Matters. These ads are a small but potent part of his overall digital ad campaign. Trump has spent roughly $1.25 million on immigration-related Facebook ads since March, which is more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent in total on Facebook.
No candidate has used Facebook more prolifically and effectively than Trump, whose campaign is run by Brad Parscale, his San Antonio-based digital ad guru. Texas is a must-win state in 2020, and it shows: Since late March, Trump has spent more than $440,000—nearly 9 percent of his total spending—in the state, more than anywhere else in the country, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm that tracks digital ad spending.
He’s targeted registered voters with Facebook ads, including many that use alarmist and saber-rattling language to stoke fear about immigrants and to call for the construction of a border wall. “We have an INVASION! So we are BUILDING THE WALL to STOP IT. Dems will sue us. But we want a SAFE COUNTRY!” warned one of Trump’s Facebook ads that began running on Facebook in February—15 percent of its audience was in Texas.
Unsurprisingly, Trump hasn’t acknowledged how his language might influence acts of terror. Instead, he lashed out at critics, telling former El Paso Congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has linked Trump’s racist rhetoric to the shooting in his hometown, to “be quiet.” Trump heads to El Paso Wednesday afternoon to meet with victims of the shooting, despite calls from many of the city’s elected officials to stay away.
“From my perspective, he is not welcome here. He should not come here while we are in mourning,” El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar said on MSNBC Monday. “I would encourage the president’s staff members to have him do a little self-reflection. I would encourage them to show him his own words and his actions at the rallies.”
Don’t hold your breath.
On Tuesday, Trump began running a series of Facebook ads targeting Hispanic voters in states including Texas and asking them to join his “Latino Coalition.” “¡Únete Ya!”, one ad implores before cutting to a man holding a “LATINOS FOR TRUMP” sign from Trump’s February rally in El Paso that focused on the border wall and illegal immigration.
He still owes the city more than $500,000 for the costs of that campaign event.