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Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric looms over El Paso massacre

President Donald Trump walks out to speak at a rally in Cincinnati on Thursday.

MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

Rep. Ann Wagner of Ballwin came about as close as any Republican in Congress to identifying the bigger threat behind Saturday’s gun massacre in El Paso, the first of two this weekend: “Any attack by those who espouse hate and white supremacist ideology is an act of domestic terrorism. We must identify and defeat the rhetoric that allows these evil ideologies to infect our communities.”

On that score, Wagner is exactly in sync with this newspaper. But where Wagner only speaks in vague generalities about the purveyors of such rhetoric, we will waste no time getting right to the point. The loudest person behind this rhetoric is none other than President Donald Trump. The record is replete with examples of how he espouses hate and white supremacist ideology in both word and deed.

Trump is fully aware of what he says and tweets. And so are Republicans in Congress, including Wagner. Yet they repeatedly fail to challenge Trump publicly when he invokes racist terminology and directs his followers’ ire at immigrants. The longer Republican leaders cower in fear of Trump, the more his twisted way of thinking rattles through the echo chamber of Trump’s base.

The vast majority of Trump’s followers know his rhetoric is not a call for physical action. But a tiny percentage take those words to heart and act on them. Therein lies the danger of silence.

When a well-armed, deranged fanatic hears no other voice talking him off the ledge, Trump’s implied call to action is the voice that resonates. Just before the El Paso attack, a manifesto appeared online speaking of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The word “invasion” is one Trump invokes regularly. Take, for example, a campaign rally he held in Panama City, Fla., in May:

“This is an invasion! When you see these caravans starting out with 20,000 people, that’s an invasion. I was badly criticized for using the word ‘invasion.’ It’s an invasion,” Trump said. Days before that rally, a group of vigilantes near El Paso had garnered negative headlines for taking up arms and detaining border crossers without legal authority. It apparently was on Trump’s mind.

“And don’t forget — we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons. We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?” he asked.

Someone in the audience shouted, “Shoot them.” Instead of recoiling in shock, Trump smiled broadly, provoking laughter by responding, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with this stuff.”

Just like elections, words have consequences — especially when spoken by the world’s most powerful leader. While Wagner condemned but declined to name names, as of midday Monday, the Twitter feeds of Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley offered not even a hint of concern about the weekend’s bloodbaths. That silence speaks volumes.