October 29, 2018
IntelBrief: The Anti-Semitic Murders in Pittsburgh
A week that began with a right-wing extremist sending pipe bombs to leading Democratic Party figures and critics of President Trump, ended with the anti-Semitic murder of eleven people inside a synagogue located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The shooter, identified as Robert Bowers, reportedly made anti-Semitic statements during and after the attack, which also injured many other people. Bowers, currently classified as a lone actor terrorist, was an active poster on Gab, a Twitter alternative promoted by racists under the guise of free speech, typically after violent threats lead them to getting banned from Twitter. On the morning of the attack, Bowers posted about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAs, a 130-year old Jewish organization that works to protect refugees of all backgrounds. He spewed, ‘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.’ He then went to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and used a rifle to murder innocent worshippers, including the elderly and disabled, during the Shabbat service.
The U.S. is witnessing not just an upswing in right-wing violence (which has always been a far more common threat than that posed by jihadists) but, more alarmingly, a mainlining of racist and anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric by the highest levels of national politicians. The President himself uses the term ‘globalists,’ often even with quotes, to attack those who oppose or criticize his ‘America First’ agenda and now openly proclaims himself a ‘nationalist’. No U.S. President has publicly defined himself as a ‘nationalist’ (or, for that matter, used the phrase or ideology of ‘American First,’ since World War Two). Anti-Semitic memes and messaging are now mainstream in American politics. The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) funded and produced an ad for a congressional race in Minnesota in which George Soros is shown with a pile of money and accused of ‘owning’ left-wing politicians. President Trump has echoed conspiracy theories that the migrant caravan in southern Mexico is funded by Soros. The imagery of a Jewish financier ‘puppet master’ is among the most pernicious anti-Semitic tropes in politics, both in the U.S. and Europe.
Far from making a concerted effort to ‘tone it down’ regarding racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, the day of the latest mass shooting the President stated that he could easily ‘tone it up’, since he and the Republican party were the real victims in terms of attacks by the media. After the Tree of Life murders, President Trump said that the synagogue should have had armed guards inside the temple, the standard U.S. response to shootings in schools and places of worship. The U.S. has always struggled with racism and anti-Semitism, and there have been spikes in violence against minority communities. Yet there has not been a modern U.S. president who repeatedly uses such openly divisive rhetoric—such as encouraging chants of ‘lock her/him up’ a day after former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Soros were both targeted by pipe bombs in the mail. The President refuses to understand that his words carry a tremendous weight and responsibility. At all levels of U.S. political and social discourse, the fringe is moving toward the center, with inevitable results.
We spend volumes of the public discourse on a few thousand poor, desperate asylum seekers, claiming that terrorists are in their midst with no evidence whatsoever, almost entirely for political reasons. Meanwhile, hate-filled racists armed with weapons of mass murder slaughter American citizens, while our politicians respond with a collective shrug and a dismissive mention of mental illness, followed by the hackneyed and entirely hollow pro forma response offering “thoughts and prayers.” But in truth, words do matter. Many of these murderers are spurred to action by the tribal political atmosphere, enabled in part by the unprecedented vile that dominates contemporary political discourse. To understand how a real leader should act following such a tragedy, look no further than Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, who, in the aftermath of the deadly shooting, tweeted ‘Just left a meeting with leaders of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. I let them know of the outpouring of love & support from across our city, our nation & our world.’ Mayor Peduto ‘gets it’—words matter.
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