President Donald Trump called the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that killed at least 20 people “an act of cowardice” rather than terrorism. “Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act,” Trump wrote. “There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”
The president then went on to send his “thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.”
Many were quick to point out that “act of cowardice” was quite a way to describe the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. This is a president, after all, who used to harshly criticize his predecessor for what he characterized as an inability to say “the words radical Islamic terrorism.”
Some also read more into Trump’s words, which don’t seem to have been written by the president, and claim they suggest a certain sympathy with the shooter’s motives. The Washington Monthly’s David Atkins explains:
These are not the words of a man disgusted with the terrorist’s motives. These are the words of a man disappointed in his tactics. No one says “there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify” unless they sympathize with the frustrations of the individual, just not the way that individual went about expressing them.
Moreover, it’s pretty obvious that these aren’t Trump’s authentic words at all. When Trump actually cares about something, he tweets about it authentically and spontaneously, usually with bizarre random capitalization, grammar errors and misspellings. This and his other tweets about the terrorist act were seemingly carefully crafted and stage managed by his handlers. For Trump and his team, this was not a reckoning and opportunity to dial back the incendiary racist rhetoric of his campaign. Instead, it’s an inconvenience to be managed.
Most Republicans shied away from using the T-word, with a few notable exceptions. Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush called on Americans to take a stand against “white terrorism.” “I believe fighting terrorism remains a national priority,” the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said. “And that should include standing firm against white terrorism.”
The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into the Saturday shooting, CNN reports.