President Donald Trump rallied Republicans in Illinois on Saturday, going ahead with a raucous campaign rally after a deadly shooting spree at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The President opened his remarks by acknowledging the “rough, rough” day that had unfolded as he traveled to the Midwest and decried the anti-Semitism that was at the root of the killer’s motives.
“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It’s an assault on humanity. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from the world,” Trump said.
He said “we must draw a line in the sand” and “say never again.”
“The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue,” Trump said, insisting the death penalty must be employed more freely to punish mass killers.
Earlier in the day, Trump told reporters he was weighing whether to cancel his rally. He didn’t, determining such a move would amount to giving the killer an edge.
Instead, Trump compared his decision to host his campaign rally to reopening the New York Stock Exchange and fielding professional baseball games after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“We can’t allow people like this to become important. When we change all of our lives to accommodate them, it’s not acceptable,” Trump said. “I don’t want to change our life for somebody that is sick and evil, and I don’t think we ever should.”
And so he didn’t, moving swiftly into a campaign speech that included insults jobbed at Democrats and, early in the speech, the familiar “lock her up” chant about his vanquished 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump initially signaled he may not use his hardest-hitting lines.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to tone it down, just a little bit,” Trump said as he ended his explanation for keeping his schedule unchanged. “Is that okay?”
The crowd loudly shouted “no” together.
The Saturday afternoon rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, followed a stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, for an agriculture convention and marked another of many campaign stops for the President as he seeks to boost Republicans with just days remaining until the midterm elections.
Trump addressed the shooting in tweets as developments unfolded Saturday morning. After word came in from Pittsburgh that there were multiple fatalities in the shooting and that the gunman had surrendered to police, Trump said he had told local and state leaders that his administration would be there to support them.
In comments to reporters before boarding Air Force One en route to Indiana, Trump said, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world.”
Asked if in the wake of yet another high profile mass shooting he would consider changing gun laws, Trump said the synagogue should have had armed protection.
“It’s too soon,” Trump said. “This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately.”
He said further that the US should “stiffen up our laws in terms of the death penalty.”
The shooting followed a week that saw bombs sent to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CNN and others.
On Friday morning, Trump referred in quotes to the bombs and lashed out against the media for what he said was false attribution of the bombs to his own rhetoric. After the arrest of the suspect, Cesar Sayoc, in Florida, Trump said the “terrorizing acts” had no place in the US.
“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” he said. “I’m committed to doing everything in my power as President to stop it.”
Trump went on to hold a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday evening, and at the event, he continued to attack the media coverage of the bombs.
A law enforcement official said Sayoc was living in a van covered in stickers expressing support for Trump along with one that said “CNN sucks” and others featuring targets or crosshairs on prominent Democrats and figures critical of Trump.