LONDON — “White nationalist terrorism.” “America’s new civil war.” “‘Domestic terrorists’ devastate the U.S.” After two mass shootings rocked the United States last weekend, headlines from Sydney to Paris depicted the bloodshed as America battling itself.
International reactions to previous mass shootings focused on the ubiquity of guns in the United States — a culture that many people around the globe see as alien — and their role in making it the world’s most violent highly developed country.
But in the days since a gunman killed 22 people and injured dozens more at a Walmart store in El Paso, Tex., attention has shifted to the toxic mixture of racism, nationalism and terrorism — along with the easy availability of firearms — and to President Trump’s role in inflaming ethnic divisions. The horror was only compounded by a shooting hours later in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine people dead.
“People are used to the fact that in the United States, every month, a lot of people are killed by someone for no apparent reason,” said Josef Janning, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Berlin. “And now it comes together with this trend in Western society of gut-feeling, tribal politics that inflames people rather than educate them.”
‘White nationalist terrorism’ in America
Minutes before the El Paso shooting, a hate-filled screed was posted online, apparently by the gunman, saying “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” — an echo of Mr. Trump’s description of immigration as an invasion. The statement espoused white supremacy, denounced immigration and praised the gunman who killed 51 Muslim worshipers in March at mosques in New Zealand.
It was that aspect of the attack, reflecting the rise of ethno-nationalism seen in many countries, that drew the most attention around the world. Spain’s El País newspaper framed the El Paso shooting as the “greatest racist crime against Hispanics in modern United States history.”
Seven Mexican citizens were killed in the El Paso massacre, and the news hit hard in Mexico, blanketing news coverage and social media, often with the phrase the Mexican government used, calling the attack an “act of terrorism.”
Some nations, like Uruguay and Venezuela, issued warnings for their citizens traveling to the United States to beware of indiscriminate violence fueled by hate, racism and discrimination.
Alejandro Hope, a crime analyst in Mexico City, noted that many countries have problems with white nationalism and hate speech, but said the combination of factors in El Paso was uniquely American.
“In Europe, there are violent extremists, ideological polarization and hate speech spread massively on social media,” he said on Twitter. “But there are not, save a few exceptions, mass shootings.”
“The problem is the unceasing availability of firearms in the U.S.,” he added.
Hateful rhetoric with ‘echoes of Trump’
The world has paid close attention to the increasingly bitter racial and political conflicts in the United States, and to President Trump’s habit of throwing fuel on the flames — a pattern that was noted again and again in international responses to the shootings.
“People are very worried about what’s happening to the United States, about where the country is headed, in a way they weren’t a couple of years ago,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, the head of the United States and the Americas program at Chatham House, a London international affairs institute.
“Now people see the white nationalism, they see a president who uses racist language, who has no problem undermining the most fundamental norms, so they are seeing the gun violence in a different light,” she said.
Before taking office, Mr. Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said that Mexican immigrants included drug dealers and rapists, and spent years promoting the false theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. As president, Mr. Trump declined to condemn white supremacist marchers, reportedly described predominantly black nations as “shithole countries,” denigrated minority public figures and repeatedly described Latin American immigration as an invasion.
In an editorial, the French newspaper Le Monde linked Mr. Trump’s words to the spread of violent ideologies. “The president of the United States cannot be held directly responsible for the two killings of the weekend,” it said, “but his speech fuels hatred.”
The Times of India carried the news headline “Fingers point at Trump for stoking racism and xenophobia.”
Mark Pitzke, a writer for the German newsmagazine Der Speigel, wrote in an opinion column headlined “America’s new civil war” that the El Paso gunman’s statement of “cultural and ethnic displacement” included ideas once considered on the fringe that have become mainstream in recent years.
“For a long time, such thoughts remained consigned to obscure forums online,” Mr. Pitzke wrote. “Then the insanity spilled over into the real world, thanks to Twitter, Fox News and above all thanks to Trump, who often propagates radical conspiracy theories and employs their representatives to warm up the crowds at his election rallies.”
On Monday, a day after the second attack, #WhiteSupremicistInChief was trending on Twitter, as tens of thousands used the hashtag to share comments about the attacks and their views of Mr. Trump.
“The current perception is very much about the deepening of the political-cultural divisions in the United States, and the role that the president has played in using prejudice and emotion as his political platform,” said Mr. Janning, the Berlin-based analyst.
In the Sydney Morning Herald, another opinion piece likened Mr. Trump’s comments about Latinos to hate speech made ahead of the Rwandan genocide.
“Trump has also referred to Latin American refugees and asylum seekers as ‘rapists,’ ‘criminals,’ ‘drug dealers’ and ‘terrorists,’” the piece read. “It’s worth remembering that when a Rwandan politician described Rwanda’s Tutsi minority as ‘cockroaches’ it started a genocide that resulted in the deaths of upwards of one million people in that country.”
America’s relationship with guns
Gun violence in the United States, including mass shootings, is common enough that some of the international response has an air of grim resignation. Many news organizations covered the killings in a muted, matter-of-fact way.
In Buenos Aires, a headline in the newspaper Clarín read “Another massacre in the U.S.”
But inevitably, the coverage circled back to the role of firearms. In Croatia, the newspaper Vecernji List reported that the attacks had “reopened the question of a radical change in the law on the purchase and carrying of weapons,” but noted that Mr. Trump has opposed restrictions.
The Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad compared gun ownership in America to widespread bike ownership in the Netherlands.
Former President Felipe Calderón of Mexico pointed to a firearms market in which guns sold in the United States flow into Mexico, where killings have reached the highest rate in more than 20 years.
“In addition to the hate speech fed by the powerful, part of the problem of massacres in the United States is associated with the expiration of the law prohibiting the sale of assault weapons,” he wrote on Twitter. “That affected Mexico as well, because after 2005 criminals had easy access to them.”
Many social media users, public figures and news organizations noted that after the mosque attacks in New Zealand, that country’s government reacted swiftly, banning semiautomatic weapons within weeks.
But where mass shootings once prompted bewilderment that the United States did not change its laws, increasingly they are met with grim resignation.
“Every time there’s an outcry about guns and a demand for change and then it doesn’t lead anywhere, and what people take from it is that obviously the majority culture in the United States does not want guns regulated,” Mr. Janning, the Berlin-based analyst, said.
“I think most people here think that this is something that will never change in the United States.”
Reporting was contributed by Azam Ahmed from Mexico City; Joe Orovic from Zadar, Croatia; Benjamin Novak from Budapest; Melissa Eddy from Berlin; and Marc Santora from Warsaw.