Rapidly escalating political violence

This has been a hell of a week for politically motivated violence in the US. The mail bombs sent to prominent people perceived as opponents of Donald Trump by a fanatical Trump supporter are just one indicator of how toxic the political climate has become. Today we have the horrendous killings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh where reports say that eleven people have died and six others wounded. That synagogue is in a neighborhood that is very familiar to me from my days as a graduate student in that city, because it is adjacent to where both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are and many students and professors (including my thesis advisor) live there.

Jeff Finkelstein, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told reporters the Tree of Life was a Conservative synagogue and said a little more than half of the Jewish community in the greater Pittsburgh area lived in and around the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

“I don’t really have words to describe it,” said one local resident, a graduate student from Germany who lives down the street from the synagogue and did not wish to be named. “I’m not from the US and this is the second time I’ve been near the scene of a mass shooting.”

The student said she previously lived near the scene of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting in California, in which six people were killed.

Apparently the killer had yelled “All Jews must die” during the shootings.

Devoted Trump supporters have targeted billionaire George Soros as one of their chief enemies because he contributes to Democratic and liberal causes and the fact that he is Jewish has been made much of by them. Also the widely promoted idea by conspiracists that the media is controlled by Jews and Trump’s constant slamming of the media, has led many to the idea that Jews are Trump’s enemies. Is it any wonder that Soros was the recipient of one of the mail bombs?

The Pittsburgh shooter has been taken into custody. Initial reports paint a grim picture of the possible motivation although one must always treat first reports after a tragedy with caution.

Authorities identified Robert Bowers on Saturday afternoon as the suspect in connection with a morning shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that left at least eight people dead.

A law enforcement official who identified Bowers as the suspect told the Associated Press he was in his 40s.

Bowers was a known anti-Semite. About an hour before the shooting, Bowers wrote of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on the social media site Gab: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

His profile on the Twitter-like alt-right platform read, “jews are the children of satan. (john 8:44) — —- the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”

Bowers’s posts indicate he was not only anti-Jew, but also anti-President Donald Trump.

“Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist,” Bowers wrote. “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.”

In another post, Bowers wrote of the president: “For the record, I did not vote for him nor have I owned, worn or even touched a maga hat.”

The shooter distancing himself from Trump will be greeted with relief by Trump supporters who will treat it as an exoneration of responsibility for the consequences of their rhetoric. Watch for craven politicians to issue the usual ‘thoughts and prayers’ response though that seems particularly inapt when the people killed were actually engaged in prayers in a synagogue.

Then let us not overlook the targeted killing of two black shoppers at a Kroger’s grocery story in Louisville by a white man. When he was confronted by another white shopper with a gun who saw him advancing, the killer reassured him and told him not to shoot and that he meant no harm, since “white people don’t kill white people”. The killer had apparently tried earlier to enter a black church and failed.

It looks like some people have declared open season on blacks, Jews, and prominent Democratic politicians. This is not going to end well.


  1. says

    I do not understand anti-semitism. It’s as though people want to hate them because, simultaneously, they are inferior and all-powerful. Well, pick one!
    But, seriously, it’s as though there are people who just want to hate someone, and are perfectly happy with any label that they can slap on another group to justify their hate. And that’s about as deep as the comprehension of the hated person has to go; I mean, seriously, nobody can believe that all ${whatever} match a particular stereotype. So, how can you hate all of them? Collective hatred avoids having to understand that people are individuals, I suppose.
    Anna and I had dinner at a Thai restaurant on Murray, right in the middle of Squirrel Hill, last night. Looking out the window as I ate, I saw people of all types walking by on the sidewalk. None of them struck me as particularly loathesome, certainly none of them was so repellent that they needed shooting. If I were injured and lying on the sidewalk, a number of them would have reached out to help me, and that would have almost certainly been unaffected by their race/color/religion. Some people are willing to adopt these simple epistemologies and act upon them -- it shows a profound and scary thoughtlessness that has been with humanity for far too long.

  2. Curt Sampson says

    I find anti-semitism, and this incident, pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously it’s not based on logic, though it’s logical that it happens in certain circumstances.

    It’s natural (in the sense of it being a built-in tendency, no value judgement here about whether or not “natural” is “good”), for humans to divide themselves into groups where their group is the “good guys” and some other groups are “bad guys.” It’s natural for humans to categorize things based on easily-accessed and rapidly-used heuristics. (This is even a survival trait in circumstances that at least used to be common.) It’s natural for people grab at whatever’s available to try to justify their decisions rather than make a serious attempt (involving hard work) to examine if the decision is correct.

    Encouraging these divisions and the use of easy heuristics rather than deep thought can be a handy tool to help gain power. (Desire for power is another human trait.) Offering “your suffering is not your fault” along with “you can avoid the hard work of heavy thinking” in trade for support is extremely attractive. Politicians in the U.S. (and many other parts of the world) are wielding this tool on a regular basis. It’s not a very precise tool, and collateral damage from it is almost inevitable, but the wielders often don’t care, and even if they do, they consider it an acceptable cost.

    While “anybody can buy a firearm” is certainly a contributor to this particular incident, I think that the broader cause is the relatively wide social acceptance of the creation of these divisions in general, and their accompanying hatred. So look around and see who’s singling out groups of people as “bad,” or even just separating people into “us” vs. “them” groups. Those people, and those who support them, shoulder a good deal of responsibility for this incident, even if they claim they object to this particular one.

    You can’t support setting off a bomb and then claim that you didn’t support it harming some of the people it harmed. (Well, actually, you can claim that, but it’s never true.)

  3. Steve Bruce says

    Don’t worry Mano. People will find a way to blame everything on the regressive left and college students and SJWs. If only they would just keep quiet and let the Trump administrations white nationalists go about their business. There are very fine people on both sides you see!

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