Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke said the gunman who opened fire last weekend in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, "followed a path of vile inspiration that reaches from the darkest chapters of our history and runs directly to the White House today."
"We should not be surprised that this kind of violence eventually found our community. In today's America, it was only a matter of time," O'Rourke wrote in a CNN op-ed published Tuesday.
The former congressman, who was born and raised in El Paso and represented the area in Congress for six years, said President Donald Trump's "vilification and fear-mongering" contributed to the rampage, which left 22 people dead and dozens more injured.
"When President Donald Trump describes Mexican immigrants as 'rapists' and 'bringing crime,' or refers to undocumented immigrants as individuals who 'infest our country' — he speaks not as America's President but as an emissary of hate," O'Rourke wrote. "This language of fear of and intimidation is not, as some would have it, simply political theater; it actually changes our behavior."
The shooter accused of carrying out the massacre in El Paso wrote in a racist screed that "this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas," directly echoing Trump's repeated warnings of "an invasion" at the border ahead of the 2018 midterm election cycle. Federal authorities are treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism.
In the op-ed, O'Rourke urged the media to stop "musing about whether or not to call the president racist" and argued every news outlet that covers Trump's rallies uncritically is "serving dangerous ends." He also called on Republicans in Congress to "put country before party by holding Trump accountable."
"As long as the President employs this rhetoric, and as long as it is tolerated or ignored by so many, tragedies like these will continue to tear our country apart," O’Rourke added. "It is on all of us, individually and through the institutions of the press and Congress, to decide what this country will stand for at this defining moment of truth."
O'Rourke, one of the two dozen candidates vying to take on Trump in 2020, was among a few presidential hopefuls to denounce Trump as a "white supremacist" in the wake of last weekend's shooting.
He wrote Tuesday that even though El Paso is grieving, it can "light our path forward . . . in its hour of heartbreak and anger."
"But for good to prevail, we need to bring every single one of us in," he continued. "That means refusing to let hate win or to quit on our fellow Americans."