President Trump on Wednesday tried to distance himself from the notion that his rhetoric was connected to Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso by insisting he wants to “stay out of the political fray”—but then went out of his way to link prominent Democrats to the gunman who killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, and trash the city’s Democratic mayor.
“The Dayton situation, he was a fan of antifa. He was a fan of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—nothing to do with Trump. But nobody ever mentions that,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for his trip to Ohio and Texas Wednesday morning.
When asked about the accused El Paso mass shooter who allegedly posted an online anti-immigrant manifesto that aimed to justify violence against Hispanic people, Trump tried to deviate.
“I think that illegal immigration—you’re talking about illegal immigrants, right? Yes? I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country,” Trump said.
Patrick Crusius, who allegedly killed 22 people after shooting up a Walmart in El Paso, referred to his attack as being a response to the “Hispanic invasion” in the U.S. This terminology echoes previous comments from Trump, who has repeatedly described Hispanic immigrants as “invading” the U.S. But when asked about whether his comments have contributed to violence, Trump shot down the suggestion.
“I don’t think my rhetoric does at all. I think my rhetoric brings people together. Our country is doing really well,” Trump said.
Crusius also invoked white-supremacist terminology in an announcement he allegedly posted on the online forum 8chan an hour before the attack.
Trump, who on Monday condemned white supremacy from a podium at the White House and said it “must be defeated,” acknowledged the need to quash it while also condemning “any other kind of supremacy.”
“Whether it’s white supremacy whether it’s any other kind of supremacy, whether it’s antifa, whether it’s any group of hate, I am very concerned about it. And I’ll do something about it,” he said.
Trump’s comments were reminiscent of statements he made in the wake of the violent 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, when he said, “You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch.”
Trump, who touched down at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to visit the city of Dayton Wednesday morning, also said he had “one very nice” conversation with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
“And then she goes and says I tried to call her, well I spoke to her,” he continued. “And I didn’t receive any calls.They’re trying to make political points. I don’t think it worked. I would like to stay out of the political fray.”
Whaley previously criticized Trump’s response to the shooting, saying his rhetoric was “painful” for the community.
“I’ve heard that [President Trump’s] coming Wednesday but I have not gotten a call. And you know he might be going to Toledo, I don’t know,” Whaley said on Monday.