EL PASO, Texas (CN) – As President Donald Trump touched down in the Texas border city still grieving from a deadly mass shooting that appeared designed to terrorize the Latino community, El Paso residents gathered Wednesday alongside lawmakers to denounce the president’s rhetoric toward immigrants.
The scorching West Texas heat seemed barely an inconvenience as local leaders took the stage for hours alongside prominent Democrats to express their anger toward the president, who many at Wednesday’s rally believe is responsible, even if inadvertently, for inspiring Saturday’s massacre that left 22 dead.
“Trump is responsible,” Fernando Garcia, head of the advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights, told a crowd gathered at a local baseball field. “He is part of the problem.”
Garcia, who helped organize the counter-event ahead of Trump’s arrival, explicitly tied the president’s language about immigration – specifically, the repeated use of the word “invasion” – to the language used in an anti-immigrant manifesto believed to have been written by the El Paso shooting suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Wood Crusius, who is being held in the county jail.
“Those words of invasion, they were coming from the White House,” Garcia said.
Anti-Trump protest signs filled the rally crowd. One banner hanging from the stage read, “Not Welcome.”
Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman now vying to replace Trump in the White House, also slammed the president’s rhetoric and praised his home city as a “beautiful community,” saying the presence of immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees has made the city among the safest in the nation.
“They chose us,” he said. “They left their home, their family, their country to start anew here.”
O’Rourke had harsher words for the president after leaving the stage, when he was asked by MSNBC if the president is a white supremacist.
“He is,” O’Rourke replied bluntly.
Trump pushed back against the kind of criticism lobbied against him in El Paso at an earlier stop in Dayton, Ohio, the scene of another weekend mass shooting just 13 hours after the one in Texas.
Before boarding Air Force One on Wednesday morning, Trump told reporters, “I think my rhetoric brings people together.”
“My critics are political people,” he said. “They’re trying to make points. In many cases they’re running for president.”
The president flew to Dayton in the morning and met with Mayor Nan Whaley, who has been critical of Trump after Sunday’s shooting that claimed nine lives.
“I can only hope that as president he’s coming here to add value to our community,” Whaley said in a press conference at the site of the shooting on Tuesday.
The mayor said Trump’s “rhetoric has been painful for many in our community,” and told reporters she would not shy away from telling the president how she feels.
A crowd of people gathered in the downtown entertainment district of Dayton where the shooting occurred, and chants went back and forth between Trump supporters and detractors.
A large, inflatable “baby Trump” blimp towered over the crowd of people, many of whom held signs with a simple message: “Do something.”
Referring to the National Rifle Association, the blimp had a banner that read: “Stop being a baby! Stand up to the NRA! #DaytonStrong.”
Trump 2020 banners were also seen in front of the bar where nine people were shot and killed around 1 a.m. Sunday morning before the gunman was fatally shot by police.