For an entire weekend, the nation was made to wait for the President of the United States to forcefully condemn the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups responsible for staging a violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Monday, more than 24 hours after the protests turned deadly, Donald Trump finally called out the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists by name.
Curiously, the president only briefly eulogized the death of Heather Heyer, a peaceful counterprotester murdered by a white nationalist who intentionally drove his car into a crowd. The president’s two short sentences about Heyer’s death were devoid of the kind of tragic and morbid rhetoric he often uses to describe how victims of homicide are “sliced and diced” by a specific group of people. Americans were waiting for Trump to blame Heyer’s death on the same white nationalists who form a small but substantial part of his voting base, but no such condemnation came. Heyer’s killer was seen in the crowd of white nationalists during the rally.
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs. Including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in a hastily scheduled press conference at The White House on Monday. “Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry, strike at the very core of America. Two days ago, a young American woman Heather Heyer was tragically killed. Her death fills us with grief and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers and our love.”
As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale pointed out on Twitter, Trump’s description of Heyer’s death stood in stark contrast to the “vivid” way he has — for the past two years — harped on the tragic death of Kate Steinle, a California woman killed by a six-time deportee.
Left: How Trump has talked about the victims of homicides by illegal immigrants
Right: How Trump just talked about Heather Heyer pic.twitter.com/EE4eZUmVc3
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 14, 2017
Trump could have described Heyer’s senseless murder in the same way he indulges in the details of Steinle’s death for the purposes of advancing his own harsh anti-immigration legislation and his signature xenophobic rhetoric. But mention of Heyer’s death was not paired with any similar condemnation of the white nationalists responsible for her murder.
Steinle’s death in 2015 compelled congressional Republicans to create a bill called “Kate’s Law,” which imposed strict penalties on criminal immigrants who re-enter the country. It passed the House handily with overwhelming Republican support. Trump has publicly endorsed “Kate’s Law” multiple times, both as a candidate and as president. The president has even incorporated elements of the bill into his executive orders on immigration, by imposing serious penalties on “sanctuary cities” if they fail to turn over immigrants to the federal immigration agency. The undocumented immigrant who killed Steinle had previously been released from the San Francisco County Jail. The city does not notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency when they release immigrants from its jail.
A mere two days after Steinle was killed in San Francisco in July 2015, then-presidential candidate Trump took to Twitter to call her death a “tragic murder,” while at the same time plugging his immigration plan to build a border wall.
Where are the other candidates now that this tragic murder has taken place b/c of our unsafe border http://t.co/amaV7tqgAR We need a wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2015
On July 13, 2015, Trump continued tweeting his support for “Kate’s Law,” for the “beautiful Kate Steinle,” this time making it clear that she was “gunned down in SF by an illegal immigrant.”
I absolutely support Kate’s Law—in honor of the beautiful Kate Steinle who was gunned down in SF by an illegal immigrant.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 13, 2015
The following day, he tweeted that then-President Barack Obama should call the family of Steinle. It’s unclear whether Trump has called Heyer’s family.
I can't believe that President Obama isn't able or willing to make just one phone call to the family of Kate Steinle.Come on Pres-MAKE CALL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2015
During the Republican National Convention in July 2016, Trump used Steinle’s death as a case study for why the country needed to strengthen border security, and made a point to say he was standing with her family “to support them, to send them our love, and to pledge in their honor that we will save countless more families from suffering the same awful fate.”
“Instead, my opponent wants sanctuary cities,” Trump said during his convention speech. “But where was sanctuary for Kate Steinle? Where was sanctuary for the children of Mary Ann, Sabine and Jamiel? Where was sanctuary for all the other Americans who have been so brutally murdered, and who have suffered so horribly? These wounded American families have been alone. But they are alone no longer. Tonight, this candidate and this whole nation stand in their corner to support them, to send them our love, and to pledge in their honor that we will save countless more families from suffering the same awful fate.”
In August 2016, Trump went to Phoenix, Arizona to deliver a scathing 90 minute press conference on immigration, during which he invoked Steinle’s death twice. He also invited so-called “Angel Moms,” or mothers of victims of homicide by immigrants, to the stage to read out their children’s names.
“Another victim is Kate Steinle. Gunned down in the sanctuary city of San Francisco, by an illegal immigrant, deported five previous times. And they knew he was no good,” Trump said, while also referencing the deaths of other victims of what he alleged was because of “the Obama-Clinton open borders policy.”
“On my first day in office I am also going to ask Congress to pass Kate’s Law, named for Kate Steinle,” Trump later added.
Trump again tweeted earlier this year when the House passed Kate’s Law.
Good news, House just passed #KatesLaw. Hopefully Senate will follow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017