Trump to visit sites of mass shootings amid renewed controversy

US president hits back at ‘phony’ opponent as he prepares to visit Dayton and El Paso

People gather at a make shift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

People gather at a make shift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

 

US president Donald Trump will visit Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas on Wednesday as the fallout from last weekend’s mass shootings continues to reverberate across the United States.

Mr Trump will travel to Dayton in the morning and on to Texas in the afternoon before returning to the White House on Air Force One on Wednesday night.

His visits are expected to stoke controversy, with many senior figures in both communities expressing unease.

Mr Trump unleashed a war of words with former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke before his departure, after the El Paso native told the president to stay away from the site of last Saturday’s shooting that left 22 people dead.

“Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O’Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!,” Mr Trump said on twitter.

Mr O’Rourke tweeted in response: “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I.” The Democratic presidential candidate had earlier said that Mr Trump had “no place” in El Paso.

“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” he said. “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”

Senior figures in Dayton, where nine people were shot dead on Sunday morning, also expressed dismay at Mr Trump’s visit.

The Democratic mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley, said residents who were unhappy about Mr Trump’s visit should say so. “I think people should stand up and say they’re not happy if they’re not happy he’s coming,” she said, adding that the president’s comments about the two mass shootings in the Oval Office on Monday were disappointing.

“His comments weren’t very helpful to the issues around guns,” she said. “I think they fell really short.”

Divisive language

Ms Whaley had previously expressed her annoyance at Mr Trump’s mistaken reference to the city of Toledo, rather than Dayton, during his 10-minute address to the nation on Monday.

“I’ve heard that he’s coming Wednesday but I have not gotten a call,” she said shortly after the speech. “And you know, he might be going to Toledo, I don’t know.”

Mr Trump has been widely condemned for his divisive language and racist rhetoric, particularly in relation to immigrants from Mexico and Central America, with some arguing that his inflammatory words have helped stoke white nationalism.

The 21-year-old gunman in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso is reported to have specifically targeted Hispanics, and the city’s demographics may be one reason why he drove ten hours from Dallas to carry out the crime.

El Paso, a southern Texas city right on the Mexican border, has one of the highest Hispanic populations in the country, and seven Mexican citizens were killed in the attack. The victims of Saturday’s attack ranged in age from 15 to 90, and included two young parents who died protecting their two-month old baby, who survived.

Police are continuing to explore links between the 21-year-old suspect and a white supremacist manifesto posted online minutes before the attack, which envisaged removing Hispanics from the United States.

In a further sign that domestic terrorism and white nationalism is emerging as a major source of gun violence in the United States, the FBI in California announced it was opening a domestic terrorism investigation into the shooting dead of three people at a festival in Gilroy, California, ten days ago.

Three people died and the 19-year-old gunman was killed during the attack at a garlic festival on July 28th.

In Dayton, Ohio, the local community continued to mourn the nine people who were killed in the early hours of Sunday when a heavily-armoured 24-year-old man opened fire shortly after 1 am in a busy downtown area of the city. Within a minute the gunman was shot down by police who were patrolling the area. Among those killed were the gunman’s sister. An acquaintance of the gunman and his sister survived the attack and was being questioned by police.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced on Tuesday new proposals to limit gun access for people with mental health problems, but the suggestion was roundly dismissed by Democrats as insufficient to tackle gun violence.