On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after a white gunman killed 20 people and injured two dozen more at an El Paso Walmart, Fox News called on Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to help make sense of the bloodshed. While law enforcement told reporters that the shooting appears to have been a hate-driven act of domestic terrorism, Patrick assured the Fox hosts that a more complex set of factors lie behind the violence.
Patrick acknowledged the hate-filled manifesto the 21-year-old shooter appears to have left behind railing against the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” However, according to Patrick, the four-page screed that authorities have linked to the shooter mostly highlights the need to “do something about the video game industry.” While Patrick called the violence “obviously a hate crime, I think, in my view, against immigrants from this young man,” he insisted the larger moral decay of society was really to blame. “Half of the country are getting ready to go to church, and tomorrow we won’t let our kids even pray in our schools,” he told the Fox hosts. “It’s many factors that go into these shootings, many factors, and it’s not a time to politicize, it’s a time to take a deep look inside who we are as a country, where we no longer salute our flag or we throw water on law enforcement.”
It’s no surprise that Texas’ lieutenant governor would search for answers that don’t point toward an animus for immigrants. Patrick has built his political career flirting with the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric that permeates the manifesto authorities have linked to the El Paso shooter. Once the host of a right-wing talk radio show, Patrick has been lamenting “the silent invasion of the border” and comparing immigrants to walking pathogens since the 2006 campaign that ushered him into the Texas Senate. In fact, as Texas Monthly recently noted, Patrick has made it a point to go on Fox a lot recently, spreading fear about the border and Democrats’ plans to destroy America through illegal immigration.
The El Paso shooting appears to be just the latest act of mass murder perpetrated by an aggrieved white man in the past several months. In its first sentence, the manifesto reportedly linked to the El Paso shooter praises the white supremacist who killed 51 people in an attack on a mosque complex in New Zealand earlier this year. This weekend’s violence in El Paso—Texas’ third mass shooting in the past two years—follows shootings by white supremacists at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego over the past year.
Patrick’s tone was markedly different than that of former El Paso Congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who returned home on Saturday after the shooting. O’Rourke explicitly linked the violence to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has defined the Trump era. “President Trump has a lot to do with what happened in El Paso yesterday,” he told CBS News. “Anybody who begins their campaign for the presidency by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and who as president describes asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border as an infestation or invasion or animals—anyone who describes those who don’t match the majority of this country as inherently dangerous or defective—sows the kind of fear, the kind of reaction that we saw in El Paso yesterday.”
While a mass shooting of the Trump era, the hate-fueled terror visited upon El Paso Saturday isn’t unprecedented in Texas, a state with a long history of racial violence. If past is prologue, state leaders will likely all but ignore how hands-off gun laws may have factored into the most recent shooting. Governor Greg Abbott urged people to focus on mental illness, even though police have so far said nothing about the alleged shooter’s mental health—and though the vast majority of people with mental illness are never violent.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush was the first statewide official to underscore the racial animus behind the attack, calling for Texans to stand firm against white terrorism. “There have now been multiple attacks from self-declared white terrorists here in the U.S. in the past several months,” Bush posted on Twitter Saturday night. “This is a real and present threat that we must all denounce and defeat.”