This is Trump’s United States: on the morning of Saturday 3 August, a white supremacist gunman walked into a crowded Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and murdered at least 20 people in cold blood, wounding 26 more. Many at the store that morning were families shopping for back-to-school supplies before the start of the new school year.
This is Trump’s USA: towns like El Paso and many others along the US-Mexico border have been at the centre of Trump’s brutal war on immigrants. The El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility has around 900 migrants crammed into a space built for 125. Once inside, the detainees are forced to wear prison-like uniforms and are denied access to basic amenities like showers and medical assistance.
And this is the world we live in: emboldened by the global rise of the far right, right wing terrorists have gunned down Jews in Pittsburgh, Muslims in Christchurch and now Latinos in El Paso, just in the last 18 months.
While politicians, police chiefs and other authority figures in the US have been quick to point to everything from the proliferation of guns to the shooter’s mental health to explain this “senseless tragedy”, the truth is there is nothing senseless about such violence.
The US is a country where the president won election calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, and promised to build a wall to keep them out, a promise he’s started making good on. It’s a country where Latinos – undocumented or not – are racially profiled and routinely rounded up by Gestapo-like ICE agents and thrown into concentration camps. It’s a country where the crowd at a recent Trump rally – whipped into a fascistic frenzy by the president himself – chanted “send her back”, echoing the president’s own calls for four congresswomen of colour who had criticised ICE’s concentration camps to be sent “back [to] help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.
Even after the El Paso attack, families of the victims are reportedly too afraid to go to the hospital or family reunification centre, fearing that ICE agents will be waiting to arrest and detain them.
Far from senseless, the El Paso massacre is the logical conclusion of the racist Trump presidency and the far-right atmosphere he and his backers foment.
A manifesto posted to the online message board and alt-right cesspool 8chan, and linked to the El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius, sheds light on the Crusius’ white supremacist views and motivation. Despite Crusius living a 10-hour drive from El Paso, the manifesto makes clear that he intended to perpetrate an attack on immigrant civilians. He likely chose El Paso because it’s a border town in which 80 percent of the population are Latino. Many residents of the neighbouring Mexican town of Juárez routinely cross the border for work and leisure, and at least three of Saturday’s victims were Mexican nationals.
Tellingly, the manifesto expresses “support” for far-right shooter Brenton Tarrant, who gunned down 51 Muslims in a Christchurch mosque in March this year.
Like Tarrant, Crusius’ manifesto espouses eco-fascist ideology, the adherents of which see overpopulation and high migration levels as the main cause of impending climate disaster. The manifesto concludes, “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable”.
While eco-fascism is a fringe, marginal movement, its obsession with overpopulation is not out of place within mainstream discussions of the environment and climate change.
Likewise his opposition to immigration, explained in Crusius’ manifesto like this: “Recently, the senate under a REPUBLICAN administration has greatly increased the number of foreign workers that will take American jobs. Remember that both Democrats and Republicans support immigration and work visas. Corporations need to keep replenishing the labor pool for both skilled and unskilled jobs to keep wages down”.
In mainstream capitalist politics, scapegoating immigrants is a time-honoured tradition. Capitalism wreaks havoc on workers’ lives through low wages and unemployment. Under-funded social services are strained to their limits. But blame can always be deflected away from the system and its rulers, and towards some other target, in this case foreign workers supposedly “stealing” jobs and access to social welfare. By demonising and oppressing immigrants, bosses and their advocates can disorganise workers, preventing them from standing together against the system. In the right conditions, this can easily manifest in acts of deadly violence.
That’s a reason that socialists and the workers’ movement must actively fight against racism, nationalism and anti-immigrant politics. We can build working class solidarity against the agenda of the bosses only if our movement stands up for the rights of all workers, including immigrant workers. That means fighting for the right of all workers to travel and work freely, without needing permission from the ruling class. And it requires discrediting the false claims that free movement drives down wages and conditions. When native-born and immigrant workers are united, they will be much better able to fight for their rights at work and defend hard won conditions.
That’s why it’s wrong and disorienting when popular politicians on the left accept the idea that local workers are in competition with immigrants. French leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélénchon accused foreign workers of “stealing their bread” from French workers; the former leader of the German Left Party, Sarah Wagenknecht, opposed the country’s intake of migrants during the crisis of 2015 and 2016. On the other side of the Atlantic, Bernie Sanders has described open borders as a “Koch brothers proposal”, meaning it is the politics of rich right wing bosses, and has said that “strong border protections” will be needed to stop immigrants accessing his proposed “Medicare for all” system.
This sort of positioning provides legitimacy to far-right anti-immigrant arguments by making it seem that everyone agrees that immigrants are a problem for the working class, and the only question is what to do about it.
As the political, economic and environmental crisis of capitalism escalates, ever greater numbers of people will find themselves displaced and forced to move around the world. Just as surely, governments will continue to use migrants and refugees as political scapegoats and migration as justification for more authoritarian border practices, in the process further entrenching and validating the politics of the far right.
This week, we had El Paso. Before that, Christchurch. Where next? The longer we leave the task of organising to overthrow the Trumps and ruling classes of the world, the more El Pasos and Christchurches there’ll be. We have to take the world back from the monsters who run it. We have to build an alternative to this rotten system.