Analysis Hate

El Paso Shooting: Not Mental Illness, Not Even Guns

Flowers and mementos are seen at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart, near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 20 people dead, on August 4, 2019. Image: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

Marisol Cortez and Greg Harman

The pit of my stomach went cold when Greg approached me Saturday evening and asked, Did you hear about El Paso? It hadn’t hit my newsfeed yet.

With the shooter an avowed white supremacist and his targets Mexicanos and Chicanos in a majority-Brown Texas city, this one felt a little too close to home. El Paso could easily be San Antonio, the shooter’s intended victims easily my daughter, my father, our friends and family and neighbors, myself.

By now it has become numbingly standard to note that hate crimes, racially-targeted mass shootings, and other acts of white nationalist terror have spiked in the years since Trump took office. Bandy X. Lee, the psychiatrist and violence expert who edited The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, summarizes some of these statistics, writing that since Trump has taken office, we have seen “more than [a] doubling of white supremacist killings…[a] 226 percent jump in hate crimes in counties that host his rallies, and [an] escalation in gun murders and suicides to a 25-year high.

What makes El Paso shooting feel different is its utter expectedness, following as it did on the heels of Trump’s racist attacks on Brown and Black Congresswomen, the ominous “send her back” chanting that followed, and the endless, ongoing dehumanization and internment of migrants and children arriving at the US border.

Equally disturbing to anyone involved in climate justice work is the fact that the El Paso shooter (like the Christchurch shooter before him) justified his actions on environmental grounds, co-opting climate concern as ecofascism.

So this shooting was sickening but, sadly, not surprising. It felt like what we all knew was coming, what had been building since the announcement of Trump’s candidacy for president. With his election, I had a gut sense that we had entered exceptional circumstances, similar to other historical moments marked by upswells of genocidal scapegoating. I hoped to God I was wrong–that the ascension of white nationalist rhetorics would not eventually become organized campaigns of terror and extermination. I still hope to God I’m wrong.

Because of that gut sense, Sunday night’s vigil for El Paso felt oddly off. It was like any other vigil for victims of any other mass shooting—but it should not have been. The rage and disgust we and many others feel is not about guns, gun laws, or gun violence. Guns seem almost peripheral when viewed in light of the ideologies that drew Patrick Crusius’s hands to the clips. Yes, yes to background checks and bans on assault weapons. But that was not the message we expected to fill San Antonio’s Main Plaza.

This was an opportunity to name and decry white nationalism in explicit terms. Not as a generalized “hate” or “prejudice” or “xenophobia” or even “racism.” What we must reject—publicly, specifically, and in the power of unity—is white supremacy as both ideology and structural force.

As ideology, El Paso echoes the overt racial terror of public lynchings and burnings, but it also gives expression to more covert forms of violence that move across and within our political, judicial, and social systems—as mass incarceration of Black and Brown bodies, as housing segregation and gentrification, as racial disparities in health and wealth, as land grabs and the genocidal policies of manifest destiny.

Assault rifles and fragmenting bullets ricocheting in big box stores are the inevitable result of a white supremacist system that has been given permission by the president (with laughter and smiles) to no longer hide its face. That is the danger and the crime.

It should not have taken five speakers before someone—Congressman Lloyd Doggett, actually, in a statement read by his aide—said “white nationalism,” let alone “impeach.”

It’s been hard to figure out what an effective response to the horror of this administration would look like. Especially now, with a baby and a school-aged child taking up most of my extra time and energy and with no disposable income to donate, I wonder: what can we do to contribute to a response to organized white nationalism that is effective? How do you fight a master con artist, a cult leader, a gaslighter, a predator, a manipulator, a malignant narcissist, a sadist – without at the same time feeding his delight in combat and domination? Is fighting even the proper paradigm for what we need to do, versus withdrawing energy from combat and placing it instead in protecting each other and building community?

I don’t know. But this past weekend, in the wake of the El Paso shooting, these questions caught up with me once more, this time spurred by an article in my newsfeed from Harper’s Bazaar, of all places. As Jennifer Wright writes in an article about the cancellation of Latinos’ passports under Trump:

Protesting in the face of such outrageous abuses of power, of such true horrors, can feel overwhelming. Marching is joyless. Calling your representatives on the phone is annoying. Doing pretty much anything else is more fun. No part of these protests are fun for the vast majority of people. So, it might feel easy to turn away from this horrifying moment in our history and watch some nice videos of cats acting like people.

All I can say to this it to imagine how you might have felt if you were to find out that your grandparents lived in Germany during the rise of Nazism and did nothing. Imagine finding this out as a child. Imagine your parents perhaps explaining that it didn’t mean your grandparents were bad people. They might say that they were afraid of authorities. They might say that they had a lot of other life events going on. They might say that they simply didn’t know how bad Germany was going to get. They might say they weren’t political.

These are the defenses people always use. And still, I can’t imagine you would hear about their inaction and not love your grandparents a little bit less. Every time you saw them, at vacations, at holiday dinners, and otherwise pleasant events, you would wonder, a tiny bit disgusted, how they did nothing. You would wonder how such nice people could let something so atrocious come to pass.

This is where we’re at. This is where you are at.

So despite little spare time, energy, money, I can’t not respond. We can’t do nothing, when children are caged and murdered and the earth chokes and burns. Still, what can we do that is effective without becoming overwhelming?

Then I remember why we started Deceleration: not just to write, but to create space, community, for others to write – others who are able to be on the ground, who have information and analysis to share that is deeply rooted in this land and its protection.

And so, these personal reflections are also a call for contributors. Are you doing frontline work for migrant justice, indigenous rights, climate justice, for protection of water or land or sacred spaces, against white nationalist terror, against authoritarian rule and fascist violence?

Are you witnessing at migrant concentration camps? Are you camping out at pipelines or border wall sites? Do you write about the need to critique the fantasy of economic growth, about decarbonization and energy descent, about ecosocialism, the rights of mother earth, buen vivir?

If so, your work inspires and excites us, and we want to publish it. Write us at and send us your ideas for stories, columns, report backs, podcasts.

Standing with El Paso and with the wretched of the earth.

For the earth and all her families.