Two mass shootings, with the same red flags in common

As per usual, a pair of violent incidents are preceded by rhetoric that's become all too familiar.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House August 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump delivered remarks on the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House August 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump delivered remarks on the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In the wee hours of Sunday, a 24-year-old white man opened fire at Dayton, Ohio’s Oregon District, a popular nightlife destination. According to reports, he killed nine people, including his brother, while injuring 27 others. This occurred mere hours after a 21-year-old white man entered a crowded El Paso Walmart with a rifle and an intent to kill as many Hispanic immigrants as possible.

There are details that have yet emerge about both shooters, though the similarities in each incident are nevertheless unavoidable. Key among them is the fact that both suspects have a documented history of violent rhetoric towards marginalized groups.

The two shootings that dominated the news over the weekend are the 253rd and 254th mass shootings in 2019, according to the definition established by the Gun Violence Archive, which holds that a mass shooting is any incident in which at least four people were shot. Since Trump took office in 2017 there have been roughly 941 mass shootings.

Police have identified the Dayton, Ohio, shooter as Connor Betts, a 24-year-old white man described by those who knew him as a troubled student with homicidal tendencies. And while a concrete motive has not yet emerged, few that knew the boy are surprised. The descriptions of former schoolmates are a familiar refrain: Troubled student, homicidal threats, violence against women, misogyny, and a young man that left many uneasy. 


The shooter also displayed hateful and violent rhetoric against women. Misogyny is often part of the mass shooter profile.

“This isn’t a mystery to me, I’m furious,” one former classmate told the Dayton Daily News anonymously. The former classmate, who is a woman, went on to talk about a fantasy the shooter described to her, in vivid and gruesome detail, about wanting to kill her. She told the paper that she and her parents reported the incident to the police. 

He was later suspended from Bellbrook High School for writing a so-called hit list on a bathroom stall wall — this woman was among those named. According to other reports he may have made two violent hit lists; one that listed girl classmates he wanted to sexually assault, and another that listed boy class mates he wanted to kill. Chris Baker, Bellbrook’s former principal — who resigned last year — confirmed that the shooter had been suspended for at least the list about killing girl classmates. The extent of any police record he may have had has not yet been determined. 

All that’s understood about the 21-year-old gunmen who opened fire in the crowded, El Paso Walmart on Saturday morning is that he is a Dallas, Texas, resident who lived with his grandparents. A manifesto penned by the shooter — which authorities believe he uploaded to the website 8chan moments before the shooting took place — is filled with similarly hateful speech and violent threats, in this case against Mexican immigrants.

On Monday, President Donald Trump called out such racism saying, “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” However, the president continued his remarks by blaming violent video games, mental illness, and the internet as similar fuel for such killers.


He denounced hate speech, without calling out his own contributions. At the very beginning of his candidacy for president, Trump characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists, thieves, and “bad hombres.” Meanwhile, he’s been forgiving of white nationalists who participate in violent action. After a man drove into a crowd of counter-protestors at a Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Trump infamously said their were “very fine people on both sides.”

The president during his remarks on Monday bemoaned the internet’s unsavory power using words like “sinister” and “contagion.” It was something of an ironic choice given his own propensity for referring to black communities across the country as suffering from an “infestation.”

Just last week Trump attacked the entire city of Baltimore and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in a series of tweets calling the city dangerous and rat filled and claiming Cummings doesn’t spend enough time in his city. As members of his staff have experienced high turnover, Trump has not held back in letting the public know how he feels, effectively bullying former staffers online in public call outs. The president told three freshman congresswoman of color to “go back to where they came from.” And in 2018 the president called a series of African and Caribbean nations “shit hole countries.”

The examples of Trump’s own use of intimidating, hateful, divisive, and violent rhetoric abound.

Moreover, 24 different women have accused the president of sexual assault. Recordings have surfaced documenting his misogynistic behavior. And he’s worked to undermine the free press, promulgating the concept of “fake news” — something else that the El Paso shooter glommed onto in his manifesto.

In his response to the shootings, Trump made a brief call for universal background checks at the point of purchase in gun sales during his remarks. But on Twitter he tied the idea of advancing gun safety policies to a renewed effort to promote his divisive and unpopular immigration policy.


Meanwhile, universal background checks would only prevent those with criminal records or otherwise documented disqualifying factors on their public history from obtaining a weapon. A broader gun policy initiative that included what is known as a “red flag” law — which would allow law enforcement authorities to remove deadly firearms from anyone credibly deemed to be a danger to themselves or others — would be a much stronger solution, along with universal bans on assault rifles.

Trump tweeted, “We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” Greatness, chief among things he’s promised since his political career began, seems ever elusive.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated, based on preliminary police reports, that the alleged Dayton shooter killed his sister in the attack. It has been corrected to properly identify the shooter’s sibling as his brother, whom friends said was a trans man not out to his family or co-workers.