Andres Oppenheimer

New York terrorist attack exposes Trump’s double standard on mass murders

A picture of suspect Sayfullo Saipov is displayed during a news conference about Tuesday’s attack along a bike path in lower Manhattan.
A picture of suspect Sayfullo Saipov is displayed during a news conference about Tuesday’s attack along a bike path in lower Manhattan. Getty Images

In the aftermath of the radical Islamic terrorist attack in New York on Tuesday, we got a prime example of President Trump's one-sided reaction to mass killings. 

It works like this: When a foreign-born terrorist kills eight people, the president demands stricter immigration controls. But when a U.S.-born gunman kills 58 people, as happened a month ago in Las Vegas, Trump does not utter a word about the need for stricter gun laws.

Tuesday’s attack was carried out by a 29-year-old man who police identified as Sayfullo Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to the United States in 2010. Driving a rented pickup truck, he smashed into a crowd, and then jumped out of the vehicle with a pellet gun and shouted, Allahu akbar, Arabic for “God is great.”

Hours later, Trump said he was ordering tougher immigration controls. He tweeted, “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting (immigration) program.”

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that “the terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a (Senate Democratic leader) Chuck Schumer beauty.” He added, “We are fighting hard for Merit Based Immigration, no more Democratic Lottery system. We must get MUCH tougher.”

Trump was referring to the Diversity Visa Lottery, a program that benefits people from countries with traditionally low levels of immigration to the United States. It was first proposed more than two decades ago by Schumer.

There is a dangerous double standard in the way the president addresses mass killings. He routinely politicizes terrorist attacks carried out by immigrants. But when U.S.-born gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others in Las Vegas, and was found to have an arsenal of 47 guns, Trump remained largely silent.

White House officials said at the time that, out of respect to the victims’ families, it was not a good time to politicize the issue by discussing gun control.

America certainly needs to be tough on radical Islamic terrorists, who are a clear national — and world — security threat. But Trump seems to be focusing exclusively on actions to stop foreign murderers, while not doing anything to stop domestic ones, who are the ones who are responsible for the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Paddock was born and raised in the United States. Omar Saddiqui Mateen, the man who shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, was also born in this country.

So was Seung-Hui Cho, the student who shot 32 people dead at the Virginia Tech campus in 2007. The same goes for Adam Lanza, who gunned down 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

What’s even more perverse about Trump's anti-immigration tirades is that he often suggests that his proposed border wall with Mexico is needed to protect Americans from terrorists attacks. In fact, none of the 9/11 terrorists entered the United States from Mexico.

Why doesn't Trump, while addressing foreign terrorism, also take actions against domestic terrorists? For instance, he should ask for background checks to keep people like Paddock from buying dozens of guns in a short period of time. The Las Vegas shooter had bought 33 firearms — including several semi-automatic rifles with bump stocks, devices to allow them to fire more rapidly — during the last twelve months before his death.

And why doesn't Congress do something to prevent mass shootings by domestic terrorists? A month after the Las Vegas shooting, Congress has yet to pass a law to prohibit bump stocks.

The White House does not consider Paddock a terrorist. Trump called his action an “act of pure evil,” but not terrorism.

Granted, under a strict interpretation of the term, a terrorist has an ultimate political or ideological goal, which the Las Vegas shooter may or may not have had.

But in practical terms, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Both foreign-born terrorists like Saipov and U.S.-born shooters like Paddock are mass killers. Trump should take measures to prevent both kinds of mass murders, and not ignore domestic terrorists, the ones who have killed the most people recently.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera