On Saturday, August 3, 2019, twenty-one-year-old Patrick Crusius drove nine hours across Texas from suburban Dallas to the western border city of El Paso. After warning that whites were being replaced by foreigners, a manifesto linked to his name on the far-right web forum 8-chan went on to state: “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Echoing the Trumpian terminology already employed in several thousand reelection ads on Facebook, the manifesto’s author warned that his imminent attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Once in El Paso, the suspected shooter headed for one of the ten busiest Walmarts in the country, a common destination both for the local Hispanic community and Mexican shoppers crossing the border from Ciudad Juárez. Wielding what was likely a WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle — legally, thanks to Texas’s 2016 open-carry law — the shooter reportedly opened fire in the parking lot before continuing his rampage inside. In a few minutes, it was over. As of this writing, twenty-two people have died with twenty-six more wounded, the overwhelming majority either Mexican citizens (eight dead, six injured) or Mexican-Americans.It was the most lethal attack on the Mexican community since the atrocities committed along the Texas-Mexico border in the decade of the 1910s.
“May This Shock No One”
The Mexican government’s response was swift. Foreign Relations Minister Marcelo Ebrard wasted no time in calling the attack an “act of terrorism against Mexicans in the United States.” In the same announcement, the Foreign Relations Ministry announced that it would investigate how the gun used in the attack was acquired — implying possible legal action against the seller — and that it would seek to have access to the investigation into how the gun got into the shooter’s hands. It further declared that it was providing information to the attorney general’s office in order for the latter to determine whether to proceed with an extradition request for the shooter. “May this shock no one,” said Ebrard, “because for Mexico this individual is a terrorist.”
In his morning press conference on the Monday following the shooting, President López Obrador pointedly called on the United States to revise its current gun laws, including, if necessary, a Constitutional amendment. Recalling the Obama era’s “Fast and Furious” policy, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms allowed some two-thousand firearms to “walk” into Mexico in a botched attempt to trace distribution routes to cartels, the president noted: “If we look at things objectively, we have to say that in both major parties in the United States there has been little attention to gun control.” López Obrador also offered to share with his American counterparts information regarding Mexico’s own strict gun-control laws — which, needless to say, are constantly undermined by the laxity of its neighbor to the north.
For years, and especially since 9/11, the United States has claimed a monopoly on the legitimate use of the word “terrorism,” brandishing it to legitimize a series of disastrous interventions in the Middle East. And although even the US attorney for the Western District of Texas conceded that they are treating the El Paso shooting as a domestic terrorist case, it is all the more significant that Mexico — a close ally that has proven accommodating to a fault with Trump on both the immigration issue and related tariff threats — was willing to call a racially motivated massacre perpetrated by a white American male for what it was.
Of course, bold words in the aftermath of a tragedy are one thing; translating them into action will be another matter. It is extremely unlikely that the United States will allow Mexico to have anything to do with its investigation into the shooting; it is even less likely that it would ever allow Crusius to be extradited. Moreover, if Mexico were to keep its promise and attempt to hold the weapon’s seller responsible in American courts, it would be up against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, the 2005 law designed to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from precisely such liability. Its only recourse, then, would be an international tribunal system the United States repeatedly ignores and disdains. Or, failing that, to refuse to continue to do America’s immigration dirty work and risk retaliatory wrath. The risk, then, is that Mexico’s response remains within the domain of the purely rhetorical, good for domestic consumption but absent a more convincing means of responding to such an appalling attack on its citizenry.
The Other Terrorism
For all of its zeal in policing immigration across the border, the United States is strikingly less assiduous about weapons traveling in the other direction. A 2016 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that fully 70 percent of the arms seized in Mexico in previous years originated in the United States — a figure reinforced by a 2017 ATF study. The police chief of Tijuana recently told KPBS Radio that, of the other two-thousand arms seized in his city since 2016 — including AK-47s, AR-15s, and Glocks — “nearly all” were American-made. Hundreds of thousands of US arms flow freely in Mexico every year, to the extent that nearly half of American gun dealers, according to a 2013 report by the University of San Diego, depended upon these sales to survive. And in the event would-be buyers are turned away from dealers, they can easily turn to the black market or gun shows, where background checks do not apply in any of the border states except California. Not only is the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico not a federal crime; but the federal government is also prohibited from compiling data on such activity.
Add to this the official exports of firearms from the United States — far and away the world’s top arms exporter — and the picture looks even bleaker. Under the aegis of the Merida Initiative, arms exports to Mexico exploded under the Obama administration, with an average of over $30 million in sales per year that at times topped $40 million. The Trump administration, which has kept up the pace, is also in the process of turning the export control process from the State Department over to the Commerce Department. Meanwhile, the president is ending congressional oversight of many international gun sales. Lockheed Martin and Textron sell Black Hawk and Bell Helicopters, respectively, to the Mexican military; New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer sells pistols, assault rifles, and machine and submachine guns; the local police who repressed the student protestors of Ayotzinapa had been provided with AR-15 assault rifles sold by Connecticut’s Colt Firearms; the list goes on. These weapons filter their way down to federal, state, and local police forces in Mexico, where they have been used in massacres, killings, and disappearances across the country.
One way or another, through cushy contracts or untracked, uncharted smuggling, America is supplying a nonstop flow of weapons to all sides of Mexico’s armed struggle — to cops and cartels, to soldiers and street thugs, to generals and kingpins alike. American weapons are literally being trained on each other, killing Mexicans on both sides of the divide by the hundreds of thousands since 2006 alone. Indigenous protestors in Chiapas, student demonstrators in Mexico City, union strikers in the maquiladora zone — all of them, at one time or another, have found themselves looking down the barrel of an American firearm. At protests throughout the Calderón and Peña Nieto era, a grim hobby was to identify the American manufacturer addresses on spent tear-gas canisters.
This, then, is the other, the invisible, the obscene terror: US-manufactured weapons being used to arm a country (and a region) to the teeth, facilitating the repression of social protest, impeding the ability to organize against international predators such as the mining industry, and keeping the nation as a whole conveniently susceptible to attempts at destabilization — all while notching up GDP points and enhanced employment figures back at home. At the same time, the Trump administration and its far-right sympathizers such as Patrick Crusius contend that the Hispanics are the problem and their invasion must be halted.
In light of the horrors of El Paso, and as ICE raids step up around the United States, now is the time for AMLO to take a firmer stance against both Trump’s racist rhetoric and the flood of American arms into Mexico. Mexicans are dying. And it is American terrorism that is responsible.