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El Paso Terrorist Attack: Words Matter

Those who constantly demonize immigrants can not get a free pass

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Take a look at this picture. Take a long, hard look. This is what happens when anti-immigrant hate speech goes un-condemned and unopposed.

In the wake of the Christchurch massacres, I spoke out against those who constantly demonized Muslims as “terrorists” and the “other,” and I wrote:

In the wake of the truly horrific NZ mosque shootings, with over 49 dead, those who have said terrible words about Islam and Muslims are now backpedaling, trying to distance themselves from what they have said in the past.


You can’t back away from what you said in the past. You can’t un-own the hateful rhetoric directed against Islam — not extremist Muslims, not the barbarians whom all Muslims reject — but Islam itself. You can’t distance yourself from citing some backward Sheikh in some village somewhere in the Muslim world and then saying, “See? This is Islam.”

I cannot stand in good conscience if I do not speak out against the horror in El Paso.

It is clear that what happened in El Paso is an act of terrorism; White Supremacist Terrorism. The murderer drove hours from his home to El Paso — a majority Latino city — to specifically target immigrants, killing and maiming dozens upon dozens, including children. He left an anti-immigrant manifesto, in which he referenced the Christchurch massacre, before the attack. And he is talking to investigators about what he did.

This is what happens when immigrants are constantly demonized in our society as “invaders.” This is what happens when immigration is referred to as an “infestation.” This is what happens when rhetoric demonizing immigrants is not called out for what it is: hate speech.

Now, let me absolutely clear: opposing illegal immigration is not hate speech; why — dare I say it — opposing legal immigration is also not hate speech. People can differ about their views about immigration and its value to society. When the debate over immigration degenerates into rhetoric that demonizes immigrants as subhuman others, that is when we must speak out.

Whatever our views on immigration, illegal or otherwise, we can never forget that immigrants are fellow human beings. Even if they are here in the country illegally, they deserve the respect of fellow human beings. They have dignity like all other native-born citizens in this country. They do not deserve to demonized; they do not deserve to be denigrated; they do not deserve to be destroyed by an assault rifle.

And the constant speech — by hatemongers and political leaders alike — demonizing immigrants creates the environment for such deadly acts of hate and terror to occur.

Again, take a look at this picture:

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Take a long, hard look. This is what happens when anti-immigrant demonization goes unchecked.

I say now what I said after Christchurch: You can’t have it both ways. Words matter, and we will not let you un-own the hateful rhetoric that has led to this unspeakable violence. Words matter. Words. Matter.

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