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Hundreds protest as Trump visits site of mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio

Bryan Woolston, Reuters | Protestors flying a baby Trump balloon rally against gun violence during a visit by US President DonaldTrump on August 7 following a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

Hundreds of protesters greeted President Donald Trump on Wednesday as he visited the site of a mass shooting last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. Trump, who is expected later in El Paso, is under fire from those who say his rhetoric fuels white supremacy.

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Protesters greeted US President Donald Trump's arrival in Dayton amid criticism that his incendiary rhetoric inflames political and racial tensions in the country.

The president and First Lady Melania Trump began their visit at the hospital where many of the victims of Sunday's attack were treated. The White House said Trump would be thanking first responders and hospital staff as well as meeting with victims and their families.

At least 200 protesters gathered outside Miami Valley Hospital to protest his visit and demand action on gun control. Some said he was not welcome in their city as it mourns.

Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton said she would be meeting with Trump on Wednesday, but she told reporters she was disappointed with his scripted remarks Monday responding to the shootings. His speech included a denunciation of "racism, bigotry and white supremacy" and a declaration that "hate has no place in America". But he didn't mention any new efforts to limit sales of certain guns, or the anti-immigration rhetoric found in an online rant posted just before the El Paso attack.

The screed's author – police believe it was the shooter, but investigation continues – said the opinions it contained "predate Trump and his campaign for president". But the words echoed some of the views Trump has expressed on immigration, Democrats and the media.

"Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart – that's up to the president of the United States," Mayor Whaley said.

A more negative political culture

The protests were an unusual display of anger following a national tragedy, driven by critics who say Trump's own inflammatory words may have contributed to last weekend's double shootings in Ohio and El Paso, Texas.

Trump rejected this assertion as he left the White House earlier, rebuking those who say he bears at least some responsibility for political divisions that can turn deadly. He denied his rhetoric had anything to do with the violence, claiming instead that he "brings people together". "Our country is doing incredibly well," he added.

But most of the American public sees it differently. Some 85 percent of US adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, according to recent Pew Research Center polling, with most saying Trump has changed things for the worse.

And more than three-quarters, or 78 percent, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.

Lukewarm in El Paso

In the Texas border city of El Paso, some residents and local Democratic lawmakers said Trump was not welcome or offered only lukewarm messages of welcome.

El Paso congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district includes the area targeted by the gunman, urged Trump "to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this".

"From my perspective, he is not welcome here," Escobar told MSNBC. "He should not come here while we are in mourning."

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, in announcing the visit, stressed that he would be welcoming the president because it was his duty to do so.

Democrats vying to challenge Trump in the 2020 election have also spoken out in the wake of the twin tragedies.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner in the 2020 Democratic primary, is slated to speak on white nationalism later on Wednesday in Iowa. According to excerpts from his campaign, Biden will declare Trump "lacks the moral authority to lead" because he has "aligned himself with the darkest forces in our nation" and "in both clear language and in code ... has fanned the flames of white supremacy".

Former representative and 2020 Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke tweeted ahead of Trump's visit: "We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here."

"This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday's tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso."

On the eve of his El Paso trip, Trump snapped back on Twitter that O'Rourke "should respect the victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!"

O'Rourke will be addressing an #ElPasoStrong rally Wednesday afternoon that will serve as counterprogramming to Trump's visit, in addition to attending a morning remembrance and making an evening visit to a makeshift memorial outside the Walmart where a gunman killed 22 people. And New Jersey Senator Cory Booker will deliver a speech on gun violence and white nationalism at the Charleston, South Carolina, church where nine black parishioners were killed in 2015.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Tuesday that Trump wants "to have a conversation" about ways to head off deadly gun violence in the future.

"We can do something impactful to prevent this from ever happening again, if we come together," Gidley said.

But that could be a tough sell for a president who thrives on division and whose aides say he views stoking discord and unease about cultural, economic and demographic changes as being key to his support base and thus his re-election.

Trump has said that Congress is making progress on possible new gun legislation.

He said he has had "plenty of talks" with lawmakers in recent days and that there is "a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks".

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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