EL PASO — If American politics has turned into a three-ring circus, this city in west Texas will hoist the Big Top on Monday, with President Donald Trump coming to rally for a border wall, Democratic wunderkind Beto O’Rourke leading a protest march and even the Trump Baby blimp putting in an appearance.
The Trump rally at the El Paso County Coliseum will come only four days before the possibility of either another government shutdown or a declaration of national emergency over what the president deems a national security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
It also follows Trump’s State of the Union comments in which he tried to use El Paso as an example of why the United States needs to construct a wall along the border.
Perched on the U.S.-Mexico border, the city has become the focal point for the contentious issue of immigration and the president’s relentless push for a barrier.
O’Rourke, fresh off an interview with Oprah, said he sees Trump’s campaign rally as an opportunity for the city to take control of the narrative.
“I think the president’s decision to focus on El Paso and his horrible demonization and vilification of immigrants, specifically Mexican immigrants, and his desire to make us afraid of the border can work to our advantage,” he tells the El Paso Times. “In other words, as he comes down here and as he referred to El Paso in his State of the Union speech, the eyes of the country are literally on us and will be even more so on Monday.”
“He’s offering us a chance to tell our story and we’re going to take that chance, all of us,” O’Rourke told the El Paso Times.
The president triggered local anger by alleging in his State of the Union address that El Paso “used to have extremely high” crime rate before a border fence was constructed and that the rate of crime dropped substantially after it was completed.
The statement quickly prompted blowback from local politicians and law enforcement figures. Even Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, insisted that El Paso was “never” among the nation’s most dangerous cities.
Today’s fencing was largely constructed after the Secure Fence Act was adopted in 2006 under President George W. Bush.
Using Uniform Crime Reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the rate of violent crime in El Paso can be calculated by combining data reported by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the El Paso Police Department.
The rate of violent crime reached its peak in 1993, when more than 6,500 violent crimes were recorded.
Between 1996 and 2006, the number of violent crimes reported by law enforcement fell by more than 34 percent.
From 2006 to 2011 — two years before the fence was built to two years after — the number of violent crimes recorded in El Paso increased by 17 percent.
The issue also sparked a flood of memes on social media ridiculing the portrayal of El Paso as a once crime-infested border town.
One photo, posted on Twitter by local TV anchor Shelton Dodson, features a Mexican food dish from a popular local restaurant chain, Chico’s Tacos, with the caption. “The Only violence in El Paso was when Chico’s changed its cheese.” Dodson posted the photo with its own headline: “Well, that was a very frightening time in our city’s history.”
O’Rourke, a local political rockstar who represented El Paso in Congress before narrowly losing a bid to replace Republican Ted Cruz in the Senate, hammered Trump during his campaign over the wall in particular, and immigration.
Now, that he is on the verge of possibly entering a race for the White House, O’Rourke enters the fray with the same message.
Already a prolific fundraiser, in part by his skillful use of the social media, O’Rourke plans to join a one-mile march past Trump’s rally on Monday and speak across the street from the president at about the same time Monday evening.
O’Rourke’s camp described Monday’s protest march as an effort to “show the country the reality of the border — a vibrant, safe, binational community that proudly celebrates its culture, history, diversity and status as a city of immigrants.”
The march, organized by Women’s March El Paso, is being billed as a “March for Truth: Stop the Wall, Stop the Lies.”
O’Rourke also planned to join Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who succeeded him in Congress, and other activists on a conference call to denounce Trump’s insistence on a border wall.
In an interview in New York this week with Oprah Winfrey, O’Rourke called Trump’s push for a border wall a “racist response to a problem we don’t have. It seeks emotionally to connect with us, with voters — to stoke anxiety and paranoia, to win power over ‘the other’ on the basis of lies that vilify people.”
The Baby Trump blimp, meanwhile, will join the festivities by flying above the city depicting the president as an infant wearing a diaper.
Funding for the blimp, which was first set aloft in London during a Trump visit and has made several appearances since in the United States, was quickly raised this week.
The GofundMe goal of $3,500 was met within 14 hours, with some 190 individuals chipping in.