WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Monday (Aug 5) told a nation mourning the death of 31 people in two weekend mass shootings that he rejected racism and white supremacist ideology, moving to blunt criticism that his anti-immigrant rhetoric fuels violence.
As flags flew at half mast at the White House and across the country and the death toll edged up by two, Trump offered an unusually direct condemnation of racists as he took on the role of consoler-in-chief, which he is expected to reprise during a visit to Texas on Wednesday.
But as the country tried to digest weekend shootings that left 22 dead at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and another nine outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, Trump offered little in the way of new ideas for a country awash with guns and painfully accustomed to mass shootings.
“These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
"Our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy," Trump added.
He stressed that mental illness was the main culprit fuelling mass shootings in America, as opposed to the ready availability of firearms or extremist thinking.
But in a rare intervention in political matters, former president Barack Obama said divisive rhetoric from US leaders is part of the problem.
"We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalises racist sentiments," Obama said in a statement.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said on Monday that one German, 13 Americans, seven Mexicans and one as yet unidentified person were killed.
Mexico's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, condemned the massacre as an "act of terrorism" against his country's nationals, saying that eight, not seven, had died and releasing their names.
At the sites of America's latest massacres - numbers 250 and 251 so far this year - people came to honour the dead.
Makeshift memorials with candles, flowers, heart-shaped balloons and posters with messages of condolence sprang up outside the Walmart in Texas and the Dayton bar.
"You are loved," read an inscription on a small yellow cardboard heart placed outside the Ned Peppers Bar.
Outside the Walmart store that was attacked on Saturday, people paused to pay their respects at the memorial. Balloons shaped like stars - Texas is the Lone Star State - fluttered in the morning breeze.
One poster read: "A date never to forget: August 3, 2019."
In his brief address, Trump made no mention of two ideas he had tweeted hours earlier: tightening background checks for gun buyers and linking gun control reform to changes in immigration law.
The president did say he supported "red flag" laws allowing authorities to confiscate weapons from people believed to present grave risks.
In Texas, 27 people were wounded, and another 26 were hurt in Ohio, where the shooter was killed in roughly 30 seconds by police who were patrolling nearby.
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Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl told a news conference Sunday that the shooter - a 24-year-old white man called Connor Betts - wore a mask and a bullet-proof vest and was armed with an assault rifle fitted with a 100-round drum magazine.
His sister, who had gone with him to the scene, was among those killed.
Police said on Monday they had no evidence so far that race played a part in the Dayton shooting.
In Texas, police said the suspect surrendered on a sidewalk near the scene of the massacre. He was described in media reports as a 21-year-old white man named Patrick Crusius.
He was believed to have posted online a manifesto denouncing a "Hispanic invasion" of Texas. El Paso, on the border with Mexico, is majority Latino.
Police said the suspected shooter has been charged with capital murder and could face the death penalty, and a federal official said investigators are treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism.
Despite a string of horrific mass shootings in the US, where gun culture is deep-rooted, efforts to strengthen firearms regulations remain divisive.
On Twitter on Saturday, Trump described the El Paso attack as "an act of cowardice."
But critics said the president's habit of speaking in derogatory terms about immigrants is pushing hatred of foreigners into the political mainstream and encouraging white supremacism.
"To pretend that his administration and the hateful rhetoric it spreads doesn't play a role in the kind of violence that we saw yesterday in El Paso is ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst," said the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a major civil rights group.
It cited Trump actions like calling Mexican migrants rapists and drug dealers and doing nothing when a crowd at a Trump rally chanted "send her back" in reference to a Somali-born congresswoman.