Texas governor forms domestic terrorism task force after massacre

Law enforcement officials block a road at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (John Locher/AP photo via Courthouse News)

(CN) – Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday he will launch a domestic terrorism task force in the wake of this month’s deadly shooting in El Paso that left 22 people dead and two dozen others injured.

Alongside the governor, the task force will include El Paso’s police chief, the top federal prosecutor for much of West Texas and other state and local officials. The group will look for ways to “maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism,” Abbott’s office said.

The task force plans to hold its first quarterly meeting at the end of August.

“Texas is stronger when we come together in pursuit of a shared goal, and today’s actions are vital steps in our ongoing fight against extremism and violence,” the governor said in a statement.

Abbott has also directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to assign more special agents and analysts to investigations that target gangs affiliated with neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.

Federal prosecutors have said they are treating the massacre in El Paso as an act of domestic terrorism and are “seriously considering” hate crime charges against the suspected shooter. The suspect, a 21-year-old white man, told police he targeted “Mexicans” in the attack, according to a police affidavit.

The governor’s move comes as some have criticized Republican officials for their rhetoric about immigrant communities.

In the aftermath of the shooting, critics slammed President Donald Trump for his repeated use of the word “invasion” to describe the volume of immigrants arriving at the southern border, many of whom have sought asylum from dangerous conditions in their home countries.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Trump ally who will serve on the state’s new task force, has used similar language in years past, also drawing the ire of critics.

“I refuse to believe [the task force] is going to be the solution,” Fernando Garcia, head of the El Paso advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights, said in an interview. “I don’t see anything there saying we’re going to start talking about the impacts of rhetoric and language coming from elected officials on inciting violence.”

Abbott said in his statement that the “top priority is to keep Texans safe in their communities.”

“Part of that mission is to combat domestic terrorism and root out the extremist ideologies that fuel hatred and violence in our state,” the governor said.

Abbott previously announced more than $5.5 million in state funding to help police and people affected by the El Paso shooting recover.

The task force could make recommendations to state lawmakers. A similar effort launched after a deadly high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in 2018 led to new laws focused on school safety and mental health initiatives.