2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke called President Donald Trump a white supremacist on Wednesday as both men were in El Paso to honor the 22 victims killed in a weekend mass shooting in the Texas border city.
Sources told ABC News the suspected gunman said he had targeted Mexicans at an El Paso Walmart and authorities believe he may have been motivated by white supremacist views.
O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman who once represented El Paso, made the accusation in an interview on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House" program with host Nicole Wallace. After noting he had previously called Trump a racist, she asked him if he believed the president was a white supremacist.
"He is. He has made that very clear," O'Rourke answered. "He dehumanized those who do not look and pray like the majority of people here. He said I wish we had more immigrants from Nordic countries because those from Haiti bring AIDS, those from Africa are sh------ nations.
"He's been clear who he wants to keep out with walls and cages as militarization and torture and cruelty. Again, we in El Paso have borne the brunt of all of that but we in El Paso are standing up to all of that and I have never been more proud of this community than I have in this moment," O'Rourke continued.
Trump chose the night before his visit to El Paso to honor the victims -- many of them Mexican -- as an opportunity to mock O'Rourke's Hispanic nickname, "Beto."
On Tuesday, O'Rourke told ABC News that he "would prefer that the president not come to El Paso."
Trump sent a tweet a few minutes before midnight, saying, "Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed polling at 1% in the Democratic Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!"
O'Rourke's birth name is Robert, but he was nicknamed "Beto" as a child by his parents since he has the same name as his grandfather. The former congressman is of Irish decent, but his ancestors settled in El Paso. "Beto" is a common Spanish nickname.
Mocking O'Rourke's nickname became a campaign strategy last year during his Senate contest against Ted Cruz, as well. Cruz released a radio ad in March 2018 with the lines, "I remember reading stories liberal Robert wanted to fit in, so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin."
It's also not the first time the president has called O'Rourke "phony" for using the Spanish nickname despite being of Irish heritage.
Trump, while campaigning for Cruz in October 2018, also called O'Rourke a "stone-cold phony named Robert Francis O'Rourke."
O'Rourke quickly responded to Trump's tweet, saying, "22 people are dead in my hometown after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I."
Trump has repeatedly denied that he is a racist.
"I'm the least racist person there is anywhere in the world," Trump said late last month, in reference to his controversial comments about Elijah Cummings, his district in Baltimore and New York Rev. Al Sharpton.
Trump's tweet targeting O'Rourke's nickname came just hours before he visits the city scarred by the mass shooting. The alleged shooter, Patrick Crusius, told law enforcement he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as possible, according to sources, and also wrote what authorities called a "manifesto" filled with anti-immigrant themes.
O'Rourke has minced no words in blaming Trump for the shooter's actions. He offered a profanity-filled tirade against Trump when asked by CNN whether the president could "make this any better."
"You know the s--- he's been saying. He's been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals," O'Rourke responded. "He's not tolerating racism, he's promoting racism. He's not tolerating violence, he's inciting racism and violence in this country."
Trump's tweet is also in direct opposition to words he has spoken since the shooting.
Just one day earlier, in a nationally televised message, the president said, "Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside -- so destructive -- and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love."
Trump's reference to when he "trounced" O'Rourke is unclear, but may refer to dueling rallies the two held simultaneously on Feb. 11 in El Paso. Trump's campaign has still not paid the bill for that visit.
Many locals and politicians opposed Trump's visit to El Paso. Rep. Veronica Escobar, who replaced O'Rourke as congresswoman in the district, is among those who said she will not participate in Trump's visit.
Escobar tweeted, "I have publicly said he has a responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us. I asked for a call so I could say this to him over the phone and ask for a dialogue that could lead to healing. I was told that @realDonaldTrump is 'too busy' to have that conversation."
El Paso County Commissioner David Stout told ABC News the visit from Trump was "throwing salt" in a "gaping wound."
"I don't plan to see him," Stout said on ABC News Live's "The Briefing Room." "I think that this community is still in a lot of pain. There's a gaping wound that's still open here."
ABC News' Kelsey Walsh, Jeff Cook, Devin Dwyer and Chris Donovan contributed to this report.
Beto O'Rourke calls Trump a white supremacist, Trump mocks his Hispanic nickname
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