The crowd gathered at a memorial Wednesday near the El Paso Walmart where a gunman killed 22 people was overwhelmingly anti-Trump. The president was visiting the city, and some mourners held signs saying “Devil go home” or “Trump go home.”
So when a man showed up with a hand-painted red, white and blue “Welcome Trump” sign, it caused a stir.
“I came to show my respect,” said the man, who asked to be identified by his first name, Zeke. “Everybody has a right to come show their respect. Any politician who uses that to further their agenda isn’t correct.”
El Paso is a majority Latino border city represented largely by Democrats, but it’s also a military town with plenty of Republicans, including a chapter of Latinos for Trump.
Mayor Donald “Dee” Margo, who welcomed Trump on Wednesday, is a Republican. Trump garnered 26% of the vote in El Paso County in the last election and filled a local arena when he visited in February.
Zeke, who is Latino and lives in El Paso, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again. He was glad to hear Trump talk about violent video games in the aftermath of the weekend massacres here and in Dayton, Ohio. He said the president’s rhetoric isn’t racist and that “people are taking it out of context.”
When Trump describes immigrant caravans as an invasion, Zeke said, “he’s just repeating the facts.”
He found an ally in Brenda Vigil, another Trump supporter who came to the memorial and was upset by the signs attacking the president.
She began chanting “We love Trump!” and “Latinas love Trump!”
Vigil, who is 55 and lives in the city, voted for Trump and attended his February rally in El Paso. She said she knows many others in El Paso who support the president but are afraid to say so publicly.
“There’s tons of Trump supporters here,” she said. “We’re the silent majority, but we’ll show up at the polls.”
Vigil, who is Latina, got upset listening to people around her at the memorial speak Spanish, and asked them to stop.
“There will be no more America soon,” she said.
Daisy Guzman and others in the crowd of more than 100 tried to talk with Vigil and persuade her to drop it.
But Vigil became defensive, telling Guzman, “The other side is bitter because he won.”
Guzman frequents the Walmart and works at the mall next door.
“We’re not just bitter,” she said. “We’re hurt for a reason.”
Vigil and Zeke were joined by two men, one in a “Make America great again” hat, and a woman, who stepped up to the open mic where people had been railing against Trump and racism.
Angela Noaker, who is 55 and black, started to tell the crowd she supported Trump, but was shouted down by people chanting, “We’re here for the victims!” and “Not political!”
Noaker said she knew Arturo Benavides, a bus driver killed in the shooting, because she often rides the bus. She said she came to the memorial upset that El Paso officials refused to meet with the president. Noaker said rejecting Trump made her city look bad.
“It became political,” she said.
As the crowd surrounded her, a dozen El Paso police and Texas state troopers intervened. Vigil kept shouting, “We love Trump!”
A Latina in the crowd shouted at police, urging them to check the Trump supporters’ cars for guns.
“That’s what got us killed!” she shouted. “Defend us!”
The officers eventually escorted Noaker, Vigil and the rest of the Trump supporters away from the memorial, just as Democrat presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke was scheduled to arrive.