President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has posted more than 2,000 Facebook ads that include the word “invasion” in reference to immigration across the southern border — the same wording and sentiment in a manifesto apparently written by the shooter in last weekend’s deadly rampage in El Paso, Texas. If Trump meant any of his scripted words renouncing hate in Monday’s address to the nation, he should take those ads down and repudiate that race-baiting election strategy.
Of course, a man who has always appeared fundamentally incapable of self-reflection or contrition, and who got to the White House in large part by vilifying non-whites and non-Christians, isn’t likely to suddenly embrace tolerance as he whips up his base in hopes of a second term. But Facebook has the perfect right to police misinformation and hate speech on its platform. It should start isolating this kind of hateful rhetoric for what it is.
The 21-year-old white male who murdered 22 people in an El Paso Walmart Saturday is believed to have written a 2,300-word rant posted online minutes beforehand that begins, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” It checks familiar boxes of white-supremacy culture, calling for separating America by race and warning of the “replacement” of white people.
The writer took pains to prevent people from connecting some obvious dots regarding the current president. “My opinions on … immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president,” it says. That may well be, but it’s telling that the author felt the need to specify it.
It was Trump, after all, who opined that the racist demonstrators in the deadly 2017 conflict in Charlottesville, Va., (including those chanting, “Jews will not replace us”) included the same kind of “very fine people” as the anti-racist demonstrators.
Trump is the one who has consistently spread the outright lie that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than natural-born Americans. (Statistically, the opposite is true.)
Trump is the one who used the context of an immigrant invasion to single out El Paso, incorrectly, as “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” possibly inspiring the gunman to drive 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to stage his attack there.
And it’s Trump who bellows at every opportunity about a migrant “invasion” — not just ad-libbing in his free-form rallies, but in his campaign’s formal, massive $5.6 million Facebook preelection campaign. That campaign includes some $1.25 million in spending on ads specifically targeted to the immigration issue, according to a New York Times analysis.
Social media companies aren’t required to host false statements designed to spread hate. The president’s statements in his campaign ads are both — and there is a yet-unproven but not implausible possibility they have already contributed to this or other violence near the border. If Trump won’t repudiate these repugnant ads, Facebook should review them with that in mind.