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.