Around two-thirty on Wednesday afternoon, a maintenance man at the Radisson Hotel near El Paso’s airport hurriedly climbed the stairs to the roof of the building to watch as Air Force One touched down. Having the President in El Paso under the circumstances, the man, who is Hispanic and asked not to be named, told me, was a strange experience: “amazing, but also frightening.” A few miles away, a demonstration, planned over the previous forty-eight hours, was wrapping up at El Paso’s Washington Park, near a hospital where Trump would soon be visiting victims of last Saturday’s mass shooting. It was well over a hundred degrees outside, and more than a thousand people held up signs that offered messages—“Trump Not Welcome Here,” “There’s Blood On Your Little Hands,” “Make Racists Afraid Again”—as well as shade.
Charles Horak, a developer, and his son Joseph, a recent high-school graduate wearing a Beto O’Rourke hat, handed out nearly four hundred signs with fourteen of Trump’s most incendiary tweets and remarks—about invasion, Mexicans, and migrants—printed on them. The elder Horak told me that he had spent a few hundred bucks printing Trump’s inflammatory language to “reflect back to him and to the world his own words, and the gall that he has to come here to our city after what he has sown for two years. We’re reaping it, and we’re grieving.” He expressed anger that the President “thinks he can come here and robotically spout words of comfort to us—he’s an empty, hollow man. His own words convict him.”
His son Joseph said that younger El Pasoans were mobilizing. “A lot of my friends are talking about voting now,” Joseph said, “which is cool.” He went on, “We’re having conversations we’d never have had before about politicians and gun violence. In person, by text, on Snapchat. I think we can turn Texas blue.”
A man approached Horak for a sign and asked, “You got anything with that quote about the rapists and thieves?”
“Yep,” Horak replied, finding the sign and handing it to him.
Past New Yorker coverage of mass shootings and the battle over gun control.
Thom Brown and his wife, Julia Thompson, both teachers (she is retired), took some of Horak’s signs as well. “I got the ‘animals’ one and the ‘invasion’ one,” Julia said. She said that she was hesitant to come to the gathering but had overcome her fears. “Feeling very anxious suddenly,” she said. “But, truthfully, I’ve been anxious for the past two years.”
Thom wore a shirt that read “ITMFA,” which, he explained, stood for “Impeach The Mother Fucker Already.” They’d driven down from Las Cruces, New Mexico. “People must speak up against what’s going on,” Thom said. “Faces seen, voices heard.” Julia added, “For me, it’s more about expressing my anger.”
A half dozen speakers and a few musical acts took the stage. A local A.C.L.U. leader told the crowd, “Today we must come together and say, ‘Donald Trump, your hatred, your bigotry, and your racism are not welcome here.’ ” He read a list of the names of those killed. After each name, the crowd said, in unison, “Presente.”
Eileen Patricia Williams, a retired Army captain, whose great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland, stood under an umbrella that was patterned with the American flag. “I’m Catholic,” she said. “These are my people. I’m distressed beyond belief. At the shooter, but also the President, whose evil, racist rhetoric is inciting a frenzy of violence. He can’t be consoler-in-chief, because he has no compassion.” Asked what she hoped the gathering, which she’d heard about on Facebook, might achieve, she said that it wasn’t “fundamentally political.” “This is about how we continue on as a community with love and be strong,” she said. “It’s also about guns. I did twenty damn years in the army. No one needs an assault rifle!”
Pedro Sandoval held a sign that read “Trump you owe the city of El Paso $570,000, pay your bill,” a reference to a Trump rally held in El Paso, last February, after which the President left the city without paying for the costs, mainly related to security, that he had incurred. Sandoval, a military veteran, said it was the first protest that he had ever attended. “I’m second-generation American,” Sandoval said. “My mom is from Mexico, dad is a U.S. citizen. I was raised in El Paso. I’m a veteran for this reason: the right to protest. This is my sixty-ninth year and my first one, believe it or not.” He said that El Paso could use the money, rather than the visit.
Ruby Montana, a thirty-seven-year-old philosophy professor, at the University of Texas at El Paso, carried a sign that said “You Have Blood On Your Tiny Hands Mr. Puto POTUS.” “He’s so insecure and such an egomaniac,” she explained, “If there’s any way that he’d see this, it would make my day.” Her older brother, she said, wasn’t very political, but she felt that this shooting would “make him and many others act.” She went on, “That would be the silver lining in all of this, for people to use the power within them. I’m seeing that in the community—a growing awareness.” Nearby, a few people lined up at a voter-registration booth. Three had signed up thus far. “People are cautious about personal information,” a volunteer said, shrugging.
Daisy Arvizu, who is twenty-three, stood behind the stage, near her husband, observing the crowd. On the weekends, she works with a third-party vendor in computer sales at Walmart. Last Saturday, Arvizu, a DACA recipient, was on her way back to the electronics section after returning a shopping cart to the front of the store when the shooting began. If the attack had begun minutes earlier, she could have been one of the victims. “I feel like God protected me in some way,” she told me, before describing what she had seen. “I saw a glimpse of him, the shooter. I knew what kind of shirt he was wearing. I saw people running, saying, ‘We need to get out, he’s coming this way.’ We went outside, through the back.” She stopped the story. It was too much to tell. She began speaking, instead, about Trump. “He shouldn’t be here,” she said. “He’s trying to cover up the fact that he’s at fault in this. I think he should take responsibility for everything he’s been saying. He instigated it.”
Jacob Probasco, a married thirty-one-year-old from El Paso, stood with his wife and two daughters. “I play violent video games,” his sign read. “I have mental illness. I don’t murder people. Why not? Because I don’t support Trump or his hate.” Probasco explained, referring to the poster, “That’s me. I love HALO, Call Of Duty. I’ve played them for fifteen years now. And I have PTSD from Afghanistan. I was just retired a few days ago. So I suffer, but I don’t go shooting-up malls.” He went on, “Trump doesn’t deserve to lay foot on this soil, with what he’s done and what he’s unwilling to do.”
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