Special Coverage: Trump Delivers Remarks After Two Weekend Mass Shootings

Originally published on August 5, 2019 10:39 am

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump spoke to the nation from the White House earlier this morning. He called this weekend's mass shootings barbaric slaughters. And he blamed a number of factors for the violence - mental health, video games, the Internet writ large.

Hannah Allam covers extremism for NPR, and she joins us in our studios. Hi, Hannah.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: So we didn't hear the president talk a lot about gun control - if at all - in these remarks. But he did point to what he sees as some of the factors to blame - cultural problems, right?

ALLAM: That's right. He talked about hatred. But he quickly pivoted to what he called the perils of the Internet. He returned repeatedly to mental illness as a factor. And he focused on video games and what he called the glorification of violence. He stopped short of specific policies or prescriptions to address this. But he did issue something of a warning to social media companies.

And here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet and stop mass murders before they start. The Internet, likewise, is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored, and they will not be ignored.

MARTIN: And I guess the president has a point in that the Internet has played a huge part in spreading online extremism, has it not?

ALLAM: Oh, there's no dispute there. I mean, it's the primary recruitment and radicalization tool, something that extremism trackers watch very closely and, frankly, haven't found a solution for yet. And the prime example is 8chan. This is a site where we've seen three shooters now post their purported manifestos, including the suspect in the El Paso shooting. And one of its service providers essentially yanked its support, and the site is now down. And so that is - you know, that's seen as, I suppose, a small victory. But there is this wider battle, and it's complicated because the president has also amplified white nationalist accounts on Twitter.

MARTIN: Yeah. Just last month, the president hosted the social media summit at the White House. And there were some people who were at first invited and then not invited when they were properly vetted. What happened?

ALLAM: That's - yes. This was a gathering of about 200 conservative Internet personalities, people who felt that maybe the main platforms were censoring them. And they said this, really, without evidence. But sprinkled among the guests were people who have spread unverified political smears, hoaxes, the QAnon conspiracy theory. And yes, one cartoonist was disinvited over a cartoon that was considered anti-Semitic. So for sure, the president has a checkered record when it comes to taking these issues seriously.

MARTIN: So with the one - on the one hand, he's denouncing white nationalism and racism and Internet extremism. And on the other, he is amplifying those very voices. He did, though, acknowledge for the first time, in a real way, the threat of white supremacy today, did he not?

ALLAM: We saw him use the words white supremacy - really call it out by name. And you know, so on one hand, we do have what the president's critics have been waiting for for a long time, a full-throated condemnation of this ideology. He also pledged to give federal authorities, quote, "whatever they need" to better disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorist plots. And he asked for legislation making hate-motivated mass murderers eligible for the death penalty. But he completely sidestepped the big question of his own rhetoric. Instead, he pivoted to video games and mental illness.

MARTIN: Hannah Allam, she covers extremism for NPR.

Thank you, Hannah. We appreciate it.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.