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Texas leaders still embrace anti-immigrant rhetoric that motivated Walmart shooter, lawmakers say

A memorial at El Paso's Ponder Park honoring the victims of the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019
Julian Aguilar
The Texas Newsroom
A memorial at El Paso's Ponder Park honoring the victims of the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.

Three years after the El Paso mass shooting, “invasion” rhetoric persists as Texas Republicans like Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick invoke similar language when describing the increasing number of undocumented immigrants who try to enter the United States. Some worry this could lead to more violence.

Only a few blocks from the El Paso Walmart where a gunman took the lives of 23 people in 2019, community activists and residents on Wednesday remembered the rhetoric authorities said influenced the gunman.

And on this third anniversary of the shooting, they lamented how not much has changed.

Authorities allege the El Paso Walmart attack was racially motivated — the accused shooter, then 21-years-old, is believed to have driven hundreds of miles from North Texas with a semi-automatic weapon to ward off what he said was an “invasion” of the state by Hispanics.

A manifesto posted online before the shooting, which law enforcement attributed to the gunman, warned against a Hispanic takeover of the country and government, labeling it an “invasion.”

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, a Democrat, said on Wednesday Texas Republicans have forgotten the damage that language can cause. In fact, he said, they are using it themselves.

“You still hear the same — if not more sometimes — hateful rhetoric. It leaves one to wonder here in El Paso why the hell did they even come here?” he said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for Republican leadership in this state and in this country to realize that they’re messing with peoples’ lives. It’s unfortunate and it’s based in racism.”

Days after the shooting it was revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign sent a mailer dated one day before the massacre imploring supporters to “take matters into their own hands.” Abbott later said “mistakes were made” and tried to strike a reconciliatory tone after he met with El Paso lawmakers.

Three years later however, that language persists as state Republicans like Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick invoke similar rhetoric when they describe the increasing number of undocumented immigrants who try to enter the United States.

“We are being invaded,” Patrick said in an interview with FOX News last month, adding that the country was being attacked “just as we were on Pearl Harbor.”

When Abbott announced last year that he instructed state agencies to build Texas’ own border wall, he said homes on the border were being “invaded,” the Texas Tribune reported.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D- El Paso, told The Texas Newsroom that current rhetoric shows any promises to tone down similar language made three years ago were broken.

“They said that they’d pay attention to how we relate to one another and whether we were dehumanizing those we disagree with. And policy would change. That's what we heard,” said Moody. “But that change, or those promises were short lived.”

Abbott and Patrick did not respond to a request for comment from The Texas Newsroom for this story.

Meanwhile, Abbott is pushing ahead on his controversial Operation Lone Star, a multi-billion, state-funded border security operation that he says is necessary due to the federal government’s inaction.

Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, said that effort only encourages hate.

“He’s the one using, even more intensively, the language that criminalizes immigrants,” Garcia said about Abbott. “He’s building walls, Texas walls, he’s deploying state troopers in Texas and the National Guard because he believes we have an invasion.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.