Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Texas Democratic Party.
Some of Texas' Republican leaders are saying in explicit terms that the tragic massacre in El Paso was racially motivated — and in one instance, characterizing it as part of a rise in "white terrorism."
Authorities are investigating a hate-filled manifesto that appeared online shortly before a gunman opened fire Saturday at a crowded Walmart in El Paso, killing 20 people and injuring at least two dozen more. The document warned of a "Hispanic invasion of Texas" amid other racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose mother is a Mexican immigrant, was the first statewide official to speak plainly about the apparent link. In a statement Saturday night, Bush said the country's counterterrorism efforts "should include standing firm against white terrorism here in the US."
“There now have been multiple attacks from self-declared white terrorists here in the US in the last several months," Bush said. "This is a real and present threat that we must all denounce and defeat."
On Sunday afternoon, another statewide official of Hispanic descent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, issued a statement that also dealt unambiguously with the gunman's apparently racial motive.
"As the son of a Cuban immigrant, I am deeply horrified by the hateful anti-Hispanic bigotry expressed in the shooter's so-called 'manifesto,'" Cruz said, labeling the shooting a "heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy."
By bluntly acknowledging race's apparent role in the shooting, the statements by Cruz and Bush were different from initial comments by other statewide elected officials including the state's senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Abbott emphasized mental health in the immediate aftermath of the shooting Saturday evening, while Patrick decried cultural factors — such as violent video games — in a Fox News interview Sunday morning. He did say the shooting was "obviously a hate crime, I think, in my view, against immigrants."
The Cruz and Bush statements were notable from a party that has struggled to gain the support of minority groups in Texas, particularly the ascendant Latino community. Both Bush and Cruz have previously advocated for a Texas GOP that works harder to attract those voters, though they have also embraced a president, Donald Trump, whose actions and language have deeply alienated them.
Neither Bush nor Cruz mentioned the president in their statements. Texas Democrats were far more unflinching in drawing the connection following the shooting, with Beto O'Rourke, the presidential candidate and former El Paso congressman, saying Trump "had a lot to do with what happened in El Paso."
On Sunday afternoon, the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement pressing state Republicans to do more to fight hate in their own ranks.
"The Texas Democratic Party calls on the Republican Party of Texas, its leadership, and its elected officials to eradicate white supremacist language from their discourse," the party's statement said. "We call on the Republican establishment to work with Texas Democrats and pass real solutions to end gun violence and defeat systemic racism in our society."
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents parts of El Paso County and has previously criticized Trump's rhetoric, addressed the question of Trump's role in the El Paso shooting during an interview Sunday morning on CBS' "Face the Nation."
“I think divisive rhetoric is not the way to go,” Hurd said, noting the president had condemned the El Paso attack. “He has an opportunity to be the uniter-in-chief and I hope that’s the way to go."
As for Bush's use of the term "white terrorism," Hurd said the FBI is still probing the manifesto, but if it indeed belonged to the gunman, "this is white nationalism terrorism and this is something that we're seeing."
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