EL PASO, Texas — Standing in the unrelenting heat on Wednesday, a diverse crowd of El Paso residents partly blamed President Trump's past rhetoric on immigration for the recent mass shooting at a local Walmart in which a white supremacist killed 22 people, many of them Latino.
As Trump's motorcade made its way through the city for the president and the first lady to visit survivors of Saturday's shooting, Anastacio Zavala, a 63-year-old veteran, said Trump's remarks, which have often linked immigrants with crime, have "spreads flames of hatred.”
“We’re supposed to love thy neighbor as thyself," Zavala, a lifelong El Paso resident, added.
Trump faced similar demonstrations earlier in the day in Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman shot and killed nine people on Sunday. But in El Paso, Trump faced the ire of a border city he has frequently targeted with inflamed and inaccurate statements on immigration.
The suspected Walmart shooter, a 21-year-old, is believed to have posted a manifesto that echoed Trump's rhetoric and even described his own attack as a response to the "Hispanic invasion of Texas."
Trump has repeatedly referred to the influx of immigrants at the southern border as an "invasion" of the US that must be stopped.
Even before Trump arrived, local and state officials had urged the president not to visit, citing his past statements. But at Washington Park on Wednesday, Miranda Vega, Victoria Perches, and Sophia Balderrama were thinking about the future.
Wearing white and donning red badges that stated “racism is a disease,” the women said the shooting had shaken them into taking action.
The three college students are becoming organizers, helping erect and grow “El Paso Strong,” a call-to-action group to encourage young people, particularly in the Latinx community, to become more politically active and vote. It’s tough, they said, because many El Paso residents like some of what Trump has done for the city, particularly for the job market and economy, helping to boost the oil and construction industries.
“A lot of people try and say, 'Look at the good he’s done here, bringing money and jobs,' but I believe our generation is more focused on morals and not money,” Perches, 21, said. “We think twice. We understand words have power.”
For others, there's also a sense that things will never be the same.
Jeni Jacques recently moved back to El Paso, her hometown, and said she thought the shooting — and the frustration with Trump — will push people to be more politically active.
"We've never been targeted like this. It's like, someone's coming for us," she said. "He did exactly what he wanted to do and terrorize us, and that's a wake-up call."
Calling Trump’s racism an “invasion,” Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, implored the crowd to read the gunman’s manifesto.
“I know that it’s hard that this terrorist wrote the same words that he was coming to El Paso to kill Hispanics because of the 'invasion of Hispanics,'" he boomed. “But let me tell you one more thing: We remember those words already. Somebody has been saying those words and those words … were coming from the White House and the president of the United States.”
The activist said Trump will try and deflect blame and responsibility, linking the violence to video games.
“Let me say this clear and loud: Trump is responsible, and he is part of the problem,” Garcia said as the crowd cheered.
Shortly after, people started chanting, “Trump needs to pay.”
Ryan Prieto, who has two young children, said feels “petrified” after the shooting, and is “beyond embarrassed” that Trump “would have the audacity to come here after what he basically caused.”
“Our city — we have been so peaceful and basically out of the limelight of anything, and he made us a point of interest for political gain on his behalf,” the 39-year-old said. “Now look at us. He made us a spectacle and people have died.”