EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Understanding “the why” behind the Aug. 3, 2019, Walmart massacre is just as important as remembering “the what.”
That’s according to the chief organizer behind an expert panel discussion called the “Pipeline of Extremism.”
The event was held Monday, July 31 at the El Paso Community Foundation headquarters in Downtown El Paso and was meant as a way to kick off a week worth of remembrances as the Borderland somberly commemorates the fourth anniversary of the darkest day in the region’s history.
It was organized by the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to fighting hate and extremism.
“For me, this is important for personal and professional reasons,” said Peter Svarzbein, a former El Paso city representative and currently the community engagement manager for ADL Southwest.
“As a city councilor during that time (Aug. 3 shooting), I went to over a half-dozen funerals,” Svarzbein said. “During that time and in the years since, memories can change about what occurred. It is really important for us as a community to heal and move forward that we don’t just understand what happened on Aug. 3 but under ‘the why’ behind it.”
Walmart shooter Patrick Crusius has pleaded guilty to federal charges in the racist attack on the Cielo Vista Walmart four years ago that killed 23 people and injured more than 20 others.
He was sentenced on July 7 to 90 consecutive life sentences in federal court.
He is still facing state charges and could face the death penalty under state prosecution.
“I think it is really important to understand that hate, xenophobia, white nationalism and violent extremism came to our community and attacked us for who we are,” Svarzbein said. “That makes what happened here in El Paso different than other mass casualty events. By understanding that and having an open discussion about it, we can continue the process of healing.”
The ADL is over 110 years old and was founded to fight antisemitism and secure fair treatment and justice for all, Svarzbein said.
The ADL works with local school districts, local law enforcement and the FBI to combat extremism, bias and hate, he added.
“It can’t be up to one group to worry about hate,” he said. “When good people stay silent, bad things happen in the community and the country.”