After recasting his presidential candidacy in urgent terms during a speech in El Paso on Thursday, Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from the Texas border city, will visit two sites in Oklahoma on Monday to call attention to domestic terrorism.
He is expected to visit the memorial site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where in 1921 white citizens attacked black residents and businesses in one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history.
The trip is part of an effort from the Texas Democrat to diversify his campaign stops beyond just the early primary states as he seeks to more directly confront President Trump, focus on immigration and gun control, and speak with communities that have been historically impacted by racism and terror throughout the country.
“The terrorist attack on El Paso was not a fluke or standalone event," O'Rourke told The Daily Beast on Friday. "Since our country’s founding, our history has been stained by the dark legacy of racial violence and domestic terror—a legacy this state has been forced to reckon with from The Tulsa Massacre to the Oklahoma City Bombing.”
He went on to say that Trump has only exacerbated that racist violence since taking office.
“Last year, more Americans died at the hands of white nationalists than any year since the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed here in Oklahoma—and we know why,” O’Rourke continued. “Because we have a President who not only condones this hatred and violence, but fuels it. We need to tell the truth, connect the dots, and take immediate action to end the culture of hate and violence in our country—because when one of our communities is targeted, all of us, the very idea of America, is under attack.”
O’Rourke paused his presidential campaign activities, which had thus far failed to gain significant traction, in order to privately and publicly grieve with the city of El Paso after a white supremacist targeting Latinos murdered 22 people at a Walmart on August 3. When O’Rourke returned on Thursday, he and his campaign wanted to recast his travel priorities in response to questions about him skipping traditional events like the Iowa State Fair to visit families affected by the violence in El Paso.
“I can’t go back for that, but I also cannot go back to that,” O’Rourke said in his speech on Thursday. “To those places where Donald Trump has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans, that’s where you will find me in this campaign.”
The full picture of what that might look like is still taking shape, though aides have stressed that this won’t mean O’Rourke will be skipping early voting states. Rather, they envision building a travel schedule that can be in part reactive to Trump, while also allowing him to go beyond some of the traditional 2020 cattle calls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
That process began with a trip to Mississippi on Friday, which came in response to a massive workplace immigration raid that took place just days after the El Paso shooting. Signaling his focus on guns and domestic terrorism, O’Rourke also released a plan on Friday that included a call for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, a national gun licensing system and changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make social media platforms legally liable for hate speech posted there.
When O’Rourke took time off the trail, a series of emotional media moments put a spotlight back on him, as he called Trump a “white nationalist” and, in a viral exchange, questioned why reporters were asking if there was anything the president could do to make the situation better. “Members of the press, what the fuck?” he exclaimed.
The renewed attention for O’Rourke in Texas, combined with his struggles to take off in a crowded presidential primary, led to calls for him to pursue another Senate bid against Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in 2020, who already faces a number of well-funded Democratic challengers.
O’Rourke shut the door on that possibility during an interview on MSNBC on Thursday night.
“Let me make your show the place where I tell you and I tell the country I will not in any scenario run for the United States Senate,” he said. “I’m running for president. I’m running for this country. I’m taking this fight directly to Donald Trump, and that is what I am exclusively focused on doing right now.”