In the wake of the worst anti-Latino attack in U.S. history, which killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen, Southern Nevadans gathered Wednesday to mourn the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and condemn the white supremacist ideology that authorities said motivated the alleged shooter.
The vigils, more than 45 of which were scheduled in cities across the country, are meant to “remember and celebrate the lives lost, and recommit to confronting the contemptible worldview behind the violence committed,” according to a statement from the organizers, which include the Border Network for Human Rights and the Refugee And Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
During the vigil organizers blamed President Donald Trump for anti-immigrant rhetoric they say helped motivate a gunman to target the border town of El Paso.
“The president is the one who started to make people hate each other so he started it and he better stop it,” said Francis Garcia, vice president of the board of directors for Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center. “He’s the one who made all these communities hate each other so he has to make sure that he stops what is happening around the country.”
The suspected shooter, a 21-year-old man, is believed to have posted an online manifesto that echoed Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, describing his attack as a response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Trump has repeatedly referred to the influx of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as an “invasion.”
The Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter similarly left a note on Instagram instructing followers to read a 19th-century white nationalist book. His Nevada home reportedly had reading material on white supremacy.
In 2018, every single extremist killing — from Pittsburgh to Parkland — had a link to right-wing extremism, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Last month FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that a majority of domestic terrorism cases involving racial motive were linked to white supremacy.
The FBI has recorded about 90 domestic terrorism arrests, compared with about 100 international terrorism arrests, an FBI spokeswoman told The Washington Post.
Community organizer Eleazar Castellanos, who works as a coordinator for labor justice with Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, was among those leading the vigil Wednesday. He said that while it was intended to honor those killed in Saturday’s massacre, the vigil was also meant to galvanize the immigrant community.
The vigil was held in front of the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations building on Las Vegas Boulevard. Castellanos said the building was symbolic and that they wanted to hold the event in front of a federal building to get their message noticed.
Castellanos said in his native Spanish, “The president of the United States was elected in large part on the anti-Latino agenda. There’s no other way you can feel about it other than offended and attacked.”
“White nationalism is the purest form of identity politics. It seeks to define ‘Americanness’ by lineage and ancestry. It considers the growing Latino population as an invasion, as illegal, as criminal, as less than human. This has created the second obvious step. Violence.”
Castellanos called on politicians to denounce white supremacy, and asked Congress and the president to ban the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and instill background checks and red flag laws.
“The uncontrolled access to weapons of war that has enabled mass atrocities in cities one after another has converged with the white supremacist political agenda that we see at every Trump rally. That we hear at every Trump speech.”
Castellanos stopped in the middle of his prepared speech overcome by grief.
“It’s too painful, that’s the truth,” Castellanos said. “Because for some reason politicians survive with the funds the gun makers give to them.”
Garcia, the vice president of the board of directors for Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, lead the vigil in chants.
“El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” she shouted into a megaphone. A village united will never be defeated.
“It’s not right that hard working families whose only sin was looking like an immigrant — it’s not right that they are attacking us this way us and our families,” Garcia said, eyes red as she held back tears. “We won’t allow it. We will keep fighting.”
“Hispanic communities, immigrant communities it’s time to lose your fear. It’s time for you to leave your homes and raise your voice.”
“We have to do something to stop this.”
The names of the 22 victims were read through a megaphone, each followed with a shout of “present” in Spanish. Though a strong wind and incoming storm kept people from lighting candles they brought, there was a moment of silence for the victims.
Yesenia Moya Garay was overcome with tears while she held a sign saying “El Paso estamos contigo.” El Paso we’re with you. She urged people to go out and vote in 2020.
“My family is mixed status and this is my community,” said Moya Garay, who just received her citizenship in 2016. “It’s important for people who do have the privilege to vote to go out and vote because people are dying.”