I'm a Muslim U.S. Marine, and I Stand With the Protesters in El Paso and Dayton | Opinion

President Donald Trump may be commander in chief, but this Marine is not letting him off the hook. And neither, it seems, are the people of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

President Trump's visits on Wednesday to the two communities in mourning were met with widespread protests criticizing his virulent anti-immigrant language and demanding that he "do something" to curb such domestic terrorist attacks and gun violence in general. A spokesman for University Medical Center in El Paso told The Washington Post that none of the remaining eight patients in the hospital even agreed to meet with the president. And Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley called his language "racist" and "divisive."

How did President Trump react to such criticism? Like he always does. That's because this president has a simple "you're with me or you're not" mentality. And if you're not, get ready to pay the price.

The president quickly attacked Brown and Whaley on Twitter, accusing them of "misrepresenting" his hospital visit in Dayton, even though they'd both praised it publicly. Still, it seems he is more comfortable distorting reality than addressing the real issues the lawmakers and people of El Paso and Dayton raised: his dangerous language, as well as his lack of action on common-sense gun legislation.

The fact is that while mass shootings in America are sadly nothing new, such hateful and inciting rhetoric by a sitting president of the United States is. And it's putting innocent lives at risk.

From James Fields, who killed a woman when he drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Cesar Sayoc, who mailed off pipe bombs to Trump's critics, and now to Peter Crusius, the suspect accused of killing at least 22 people in a Walmart in El Paso—they all have one thing in common. They adored Trump's hateful rhetoric. Don't believe me: Google the case histories or read their very own manifestos.

Trump is not alone in all this. By either defending him or staying silent, the Republican Party is complicit in the discord and violence he wreaks. All the while, the body count of Americans continues to increase.

Yes, body count. Because hateful, bigoted, xenophobic, Islamophobic rhetoric often has one trajectory: physical harm. I can barely recall a single Trump rally that didn't make headlines for a physical altercation or a moment of shocking racism, from "Send her back!" to "Shoot them!"

You could dismiss me as simply someone who hates Republicans no matter what they do. But you'd be wrong.

I served as a proud Muslim American U.S. Marine brown guy prior to and after the 9/11 attacks when another Republican, George W. Bush, was president. I never felt the sort of racism and hate back then as I do today from the Republican Party and president.

In the face of tragedy, Bush did what a president was supposed to do: unite. "Islam is peace," he reminded Americans after the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But he didn't just stop there.

Trump Protest El Paso Shooting
Miguel de Anda, born and raised in El Paso, holds a sign reading "Trump Not Welcome Here" at a protest against President Donald Trump's visit following a mass shooting, which left at least 22 people dead, on August 7 in El Paso, Texas. Mario Tama/Getty

"I've been told that some fear to leave," Bush said of Muslim Americans, "some don't want to go shopping for their families; some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America. Those who feel they can intimidate our fellow citizens to takeout their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."

Contrast that to President Trump, who stated during a CNN interview in 2016, "I think Islam hates us," and prior to that called for a ban of all Muslims entering the United States. The result: Hate crimes against Muslim Americans spiked.

It should be obvious that easy access to guns doesn't help the situation. The process to purchase a gun in the United States is almost as simple as buying groceries. And the level of lethal firearm available is something that, frankly, doesn't belong in the hands of civilians, ex-military or not. According to the latest polls, at least 60 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, and the residents of El Paso and Dayton who furiously waved signs and chanted for gun reform are part of that majority.

And yes, mental illness is also a factor. But what about the other underlying factor of hate and bigotry? What about the role of leaders like our president, whose words are inciting violence? The bottom line is leadership matters. We have a hate problem escalating at an alarming rate. And until we hold this president and his Republican defenders to account, mark my words, the body count will continue to increase.

Mansoor Shams is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, the founder of MuslimMarine.org and a Member on the Council on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @mansoortshams.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.