Two years ago this week, El Paso, Texas, suffered a horrifying mass shooting attack that killed 23 people, injured another 23 people. As we came to learn about the nature of this mass shooting attack as an act of white supremacist terrorism, we had to confront some painful inconvenient truths about how fragile our American democracy truly is.
WARNING: This story covers some sensitive subjects, such as terrorism, shooting attacks, and
Again, let’s remember why we’re here: This story was originally published on this site on August 8, 2019. Keep reading to the end for some updates, and stay tuned for future editions of “Web of Hate” and “This Week in Corona Scams” where we’ll examine some of the root causes of fascist terrorism.
As we’ve been pointing out this week, this is nothing new. Back when Cliven Bundy launched his “Range War” against the federal government in April 2014, he amassed an army of white nationalists to join his family in pointing guns at federal agents. Even before Bundy wreaked all this havoc upon Bunkerville and Mesquite, figures like Barbara Coe, Jim Gilchrist, and Shawna Forde were spreading their toxic gospel of hate.
Since then, we’ve seen a series of terrorist attacks, from Jerad and Amanda Miller launching their bloody “revolution” of assassinations here in Las Vegas in June 2014 to the attack of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 to the attacks on Gilroy (California) in July 2019 and El Paso in August 2019. It’s becoming clearer why they’re happening, yet President Donald Trump refuses to stop fueling this violence. Instead, he continues fomenting this hatred, and communities like ours are left to pick up the pieces.
So last night, 17 immigrant rights activists braved the stormy weather outside to begin picking up the pieces. As they carried signs with messages like “More Love, Less Hate” and “No More Innocent Blood”, they also expressed hope that they’re not alone in demanding less hate in our lives. I subsequently spoke with two of these activists about why they came and why they still hope for a better future for their families and this country.
“We don’t have to be afraid. I think that we have the power to change people’s hearts by showing them who we are. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
– Frances Garcia
Frances Garcia works with Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center and National TPS Alliance. When she spoke with me last night, she acknowledged that loved ones fear for her safety. But for Garcia, she wants the entire community to eventually make it to a new reality where they don’t have to constantly fear for their safety: “We don’t have to be afraid. I think that we have the power to change people’s hearts by showing them who we are. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
And yet, she also noted that her own daughter was recently threatened: “The other day, I was in the store, and somebody told my daughter she deserves to die because she’s Mexican. It pissed me off, and it breaks my heart to think that if my daughter’s alone, someone can hurt her.” Garcia continued, “She’s an American citizen. Even if she’s not, she’s a human. She doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
Nevertheless, Garcia persists. While she and her family continue to experience this kind of bigotry firsthand, she refuses to succumb to their threats. Instead, she wants Nevada and the nation to see the reality of immigrant communities, not the bigoted fever dreams Trump wants the nation to believe.
“We understand already that nobody can do the fight better than we can. We are their target, so we are the ones who must make these people understand that this hate is not going to take over,” Garcia stated. She continued, “Maybe you hate someone who you don’t even know, just because someone tells you something that’s not even true.”
“We’re not here to take anything away. What does it cost you to give us citizenship and a work permit? It doesn’t cost you anything because, honestly, it costs us. It costs us blood, tears, money, and fears.”
– Yesenia Moya Garay
I also spoke with Yesenia Moya Garay. She has a fairly unique perspective here. As she explains it, “I’m from a mixed-status family. I became a citizen in 2016. I felt my community attacked. I felt the strong language that was used.”
And now, with Trump in the White House, it’s not just “strong language”: “My sister is going through deportation proceedings. My mother is trying to get her [permanent legal] status. My other sister just got her [permanent legal] residency.” Garay continued, “The thing is, every day we fear. Every time we go to court, we get a reprieve. We either get two months or six months more with my sister, and she either gets two more weeks or three more weeks with her sons.”
And when Trump and his fans yell about them “going back to where they came from,” Garay explained why they have no clue what they’re talking about: “My sisters and I were brought here very young, in circumstances that were very much out of our control. My sister does not deserve to be deported to a country she does not know. She knows the language, but she doesn’t know. We don’t have family there.” She then insisted, “Her sons deserve to have her here, because they can’t go over there. There’s no way. She’s queer. It wouldn’t work. It just would not work.”
And ultimately, she wants everyone else to recognize the sacrifices her mother made to give them a better life. As Garay explained, “What I want everyone to understand is to humanize us and understand that we’re people, too. We’re not here to take anything away. What does it cost you to give us citizenship and a work permit? It doesn’t cost you anything because, honestly, it costs us. It costs us blood, tears, money, and fears.” She then brought it back to the crisis we’re experiencing now as she pointed out, “Even though I’m a citizen now, I’m still afraid they’re going to walk through that door and tell me I’m not a citizen any more, just like they told that 14-year-old boy at the border who is a U.S. citizen.”
Can love trump hate? That’s for us to decide.
Lost amidst the headlines from Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton is this good news for Adriana Arellano Cruz, the Las Vegas mother who was apprehended by ICE agents while Trump was threatening massive deportation raids in ten major urban regions. She was finally released on bail yesterday, though she likely still faces additional hurdles in immigration court. And lost amidst the recent headlines from Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton is news of larger ICE raids targeting other immigrants in similar circumstances in places like Mississippi.
Still, her entire ordeal thus far has so many in Nevada and elsewhere asking: Why did the federal government spend so much money and time arresting and detaining Adriana Arellano Cruz in the first place? And really, why did the White House decide to prioritize arrests of immigrants like Cruz while refusing to take the threat of white nationalist terrorism more seriously?
It remains to be seen if Congress will move forward in impeaching Trump for the continually growing list of high crimes and misdemeanors that can be traced back to him, or even if the Republican-controlled Senate will finally take up the gun violence prevention legislation passed by the Democratic-run House earlier this year, or if Senate leaders will work with House leaders on the kind of humane immigration policies that once had bipartisan support before Trump’s rise to power. It remains to be seen if elected officials in Washington, D.C., will change anything after these terrorist attacks struck right at the heart of civic life in this nation, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious to so many Americans beyond Capitol Hill what can and must change in order for America to survive.
Immigrant communities in Nevada and elsewhere already felt the pressure before last weekend, but now it’s even more intense. And yet, Nevadans like Frances Garcia and Yesenia Moya Garay still have hope for a better America. Maybe, just maybe, is there still reason for the rest of us to hope? And maybe, just maybe, can we find a way past this hatred and towards becoming a more peaceful and civil society?
Postscript #1: Two years later we have a new president, a new hate crimes law, and new promises to take on the “Web of Hate”.
Two years ago a man, inspired by the words of Donald Trump, drove 11 hours to El Paso and killed 23 people, his deranged response to what he called “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
It was the inevitable and terrible consequence of political leaders normalizing hate and bigotry.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) August 3, 2021
But we must also remember August 3rd because we haven’t had justice yet. I don’t mean the shooter—he’ll be held accountable and (at minimum) never taste freedom again—but for the words and ideas that led him to pull the trigger. 3/8
— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) August 3, 2021
In an op-ed for the El Paso Times, President Joe Biden wrote, “America’s intelligence community has confirmed what the people of El Paso know all too well: the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland in recent years has been domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy. We cannot ignore it. We must confront the spread of hate-fueled violence in every form.” He later added, “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.”
So what are he and Congress actually doing about it? On one hand, they passed and signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act this past May after it was amended to require a more comprehensive effort to allow for more victims to report hate crimes and make law enforcement more responsive to at-risk communities. The following month, the Biden administration released America’s first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism that includes better coordination with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as a prevention strategy that includes better monitoring of online extremist networks and intervention programs to counter the early stages of radicalization.
So in stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s continuing support for fascist extremists and efforts to foment more violence – from his frequent attacks on communities to color to his ongoing gaslighting over the 2020 election and the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol – current President Joe Biden is at least taking action to counter fascist extremism and white supremacist terrorism rather than encouraging more. But really, this is a very low bar for a politician to clear. In order to overcome this continuing threat to American democracy, we must do more.
Postscript #2: Two years after the El Paso Shooting, the unacceptable status quo remains. When will we finally change it?
Two years ago today, 23 innocent lives were taken, dozens injured, our community was devastated.
Because of hate.
Today, El Paso, may we be surrounded and uplifted by the love of our families and neighbors, friends and strangers.
Our strength comes from love.#ElPasoStrong
— Veronica Escobar (@vgescobar) August 3, 2021
When it comes to holding accountable the people and entities most responsible for this rise in fascist extremism and bigoted violence, it’s still not happening yet. For all the ongoing media pundit chatter about the “bad optics” of Black Lives Matter activists’ calls to “Defund the Police”, the police unions’ insistence on defending their members who participated in the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol and refusal to counter the internal culture of bigotry that has contributed to the epidemic of police-induced violence show that much of our law enforcement system itself is part of the problem.
For all the allegedly “populist” politicians who indulge in “anti-Big Tech” rhetoric, that rhetoric has yet to translate into any new antitrust laws or any other legislative action to curb the power of a handful of “Big Tech” companies to pollute an entire country’s public sphere and exacerbate a deadly pandemic with their hyper-monetized algorithms. And for all the talk of “accountability” and “investigations” on Capitol Hill, Donald Trump continues to evade legal consequences for his role in the January 6 Attack, and top fascist figures – such as Steve Bannon, Ali Alexander, Jim and Ron Watkins, and possibly more top Trump administration officials – who played pivotal roles in building up what would become the January 6 Attack have also evaded legal consequences thus far. And while the U.S. Justice Department is finally refusing to defend members of Congress who encouraged the insurrection, the Justice Department also continues to defend Trump in E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit over her claim that he sexually assaulted her.
We deserve elected officials that give a fuck about us.
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) August 3, 2021
And despite the continuing scourge of mass shooting attacks across America, gun violence prevention remains on ice in Congress due to the Senate’s filibuster rules, and we’re still waiting to see if Senate Democrats decide to remove this legislative roadblock that stands in the way of policies like universal background checks and a new assault weapons ban that Biden restated his support for in his El Paso Times op-ed.
While some things have changed in the two years since the El Paso Shooting, there’s still too much that remains the same. As much as there seems to be some kind of consensus that the status quo is unacceptable, the status quo remains in place as long as we decline to actually act to change it.
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.