Demonstrators a protest during the visit of Donald Trump to the site of the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. AFP
US President Donald Trump met in Ohio on Wednesday with victims and first responders from one of last weekend’s two deadly mass shootings that shocked the country, even as critics and protesters accused him of inflaming tensions with anti-immigrant and racially charged rhetoric.
Trump visited Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where the victims were treated after nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early on Sunday.
Donald Trump and his wife board Air Force One after meeting with people affected by the mass shooting in Dayton on Wednesday. AP
Crowds of protesters outside the hospital set up a “baby Trump” blimp balloon, chanted “Do Something!” and held signs reading “Hate not welcome here,” “Stop this terror,” and “You are why.”
Local Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar said she would not meet the president.
“From my perspective, he is not welcome here. He should not come here,” Escobar said on MSNBC.
Even the city’s Republican mayor offered only a grudging welcome, stressing icily that he would greet Trump in his “official capacity.” Trump pushed back before leaving the White House earlier on Wednesday.
“I think my rhetoric brings people together,” he said.
“My critics are political people, they’re trying to make points. In many cases they’re running for president,” the Republican told reporters.
Demonstrators stand at a protest against Trump's visit following a mass shooting, in El Paso,Texas. AFP
One of those critics, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, was to pile on the pressure later Wednesday with a speech accusing Trump of fanning “the flames of white supremacy.”
“Trump offers no moral leadership, no interest in unifying the nation,” the text of Biden’s speech said. “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.”
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Twitter that Trump stopped by hospital rooms and met patients while thanking the medical staff for their work.
Later in the day, Trump will visit the Texas city of El Paso, on the border with Mexico, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday by a 21-year-old man who had posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online.
The back-to-back massacres, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of “Do something!”
Demonstrators gather to protest the arrival of Donald Trump outside Miami Valley Hospital. AP
As he left the White House, Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.
“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up ... There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”
In Dayton, Trump was greeted at the airport by a bipartisan group of state and local officials, including Democratic Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who had said she would welcome Trump but planned to tell him he had been “unhelpful” on the issue of gun violence.
Critics have said Trump stokes violence with racially incendiary rhetoric. The El Paso massacre is being investigated as a hate crime and the FBI said the Dayton shooter had explored violent ideologies.
On Monday, Trump gave a speech focusing on mental health reforms, tighter internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty. Democrats accuse Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws they insist are needed to restrict gun ownership and the types of weapons that are legal.
In Iowa, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden planned to say in a campaign speech, “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.”
In a sign of higher tensions after the shootings, a motorcycle backfiring on Tuesday night in New York’s Times Square sent crowds running for fear of another gun attack. “People are obviously very frightened,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.
Authorities in Texas have said they are investigating Saturday’s shooting spree in the predominantly Hispanic west Texas border city of El Paso as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. They cited a racist manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect.
An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having “a deep tradition of racial harmony” whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country’s most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.
Trump, in his televised White House speech on Monday, condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate. His supporters say Democrats unfairly blame him for the behavior of criminals.
Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. It’s one senseless and horrific mass shooting after another, and you’re hit with waves of sadness, anger and frustration. If 20 children were massacred at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 and the sensible gun control proposals that followed were handily defeated, is there any way ordinary
The back-to-back massacres have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio's Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of "Do something!"
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