The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting (part 1 of 2)

It really shouldn’t make a difference.

But it does.

There have been more than a few hate-inspired mass murders and near-tragedies in this country in recent years and when you come down to it, they’re pretty much alike:  somebody filled with hate and suffering from psychological problems gets hold of a weapon and goes out and kills people.  Sometimes the people killed are kids, sometimes they’re people who are a different race, sometimes they’re people with a different sexual preference, and sometimes they’re people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But the murders in Pittsburgh hit a little closer to home for The Curmudgeon. The killings were in a synagogue and The Curmudgeon is Jewish.  The widow of one of The Curmudgeon’s cousins used to attend the synagogue at which the Pittsburgh shooting took place.

The Curmudgeon has experienced anti-Semitism at various times in his life, such as the home his parents decided to sell not longer after a neighbor kid wrote something on the house’s wall; the little league team where every other kid was given an opportunity to pitch except for The Curmudgeon, who was an experienced pitcher; the day in eleventh grade when a kid The Curmudgeon didn’t even know came up to him in the hallway at school and said apologetically that he hoped The Curmudgeon didn’t mind but he took down one of The Curmudgeon’s campaign posters – he was running for student government office at the time – because someone had drawn a swastika on it; and others, including, probably, some he didn’t even realize.

Last Saturday The Curmudgeon visited one of the three or four web sites he spends a few minutes with each evening, first to find out what’s going on in the world and second in search of ideas worth writing about for this site, and on the Associated Press web site he came across an article about the social media activities of the Pittsburgh shooter.  The following are some excerpts:

Police have identified the suspect as Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh. A man with the same name posted on the site on the morning of the shooting that “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.”

 HIAS is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. The organization says it is guided by Jewish values and history. President and CEO Mark Hetfield said he wasn’t aware of the shooter’s “obsession with HIAS until this morning.”

*            *            *

In a statement, said it suspended the alleged gunman’s account Saturday morning shortly after his name was mentioned on police radio chatter. The company said it backed up the content of the account and notified the FBI.

Gab has become an alternative to Twitter for users whose racist and harassing online behavior got them banned from the mainstream platform. The company said it disavows acts of terrorism and violence, but sees its mission as defending “free expression and individual liberty online for all people.”

Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba declined to answer emailed questions posed by an AP reporter. A post made on the site’s Twitter account on Saturday appeared to revel in the attention prompted by the killings, saying “We have been getting 1 million hits an hour all day.”

*            *            *

 In the description on his account, Bowers wrote “jews are the children of satan.” The cover photo featured the neo-Nazi symbol “1488.” The first two numbers refer to the white supremacist “14 Words” slogan, while “88″ stands for “Heil Hitler” since “H″ is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

 Among his recent posts, Bowers posted a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews, writing the caption “Make Ovens 1488F Again.” But in other posts he also featured memes containing false conspiracy theories suggesting the Holocaust — in which an estimated 6 million Jews perished — was a hoax.

 Another post derided Trump for being “a globalist, not a nationalist” and added that “there is no #MAGA” as long as there is a Jewish “infestation,” using a slur for Jews. The same post also referenced QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory that started on the message board 4chan and has been spread by a fringe element of the president’s supporters.

Bowers also recently posted a photo of a collection of three black semi-automatic handguns he titled “my glock family,” a reference to the Austrian firearms manufacturer. He also posted photos of bullet holes in person-sized targets at a firing range, touting the “amazing trigger” on his weapon.

*            *            *

This is the world we live in today.  While to many Donald Trump is responsible for stoking anger and violence, it’s hard to hold him wholly responsible for something like this that is so far beyond the pale of even ordinary anger and violence.  In truth, it’s not hard to imagine something like Saturday’s Pittsburgh shooting happening in a world where Donald Trump isn’t president of the United States but is a glorified Wink Martindale trying to get us interested in watching Danny Bonaduce, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jenny McCarthy, and David Hasselhoff in a new season of Celebrity Apprentice.

But neither is Trump without some degree of culpability for this and for other such tragedies.  He didn’t initiate the toxic climate we have in this country today but he capitalized on it, exploited it, benefited from it, and is now raising it to an entirely new and higher level.  He refuses to acknowledge the conditions surrounding the Republican Tea Party – the anger, the protests, the physical confrontations, the manner in which public officials were treated at town hall meetings and other public events, the call to arms to “take back the country” that no one had taken away from them.  He is wrong when he criticizes those who dare fight back against his rhetoric, who have the temerity to disagree with him, whether they are journalists or protesters or, heaven forbid, Democrats.  He is partisan in a way that no president of this country has ever been partisan, vilifying anyone who dares disagree with him and painting hopelessly diverse groups with the same broad, malignant brush.

He and his supporters demonize the virtually invisible, inactive “antifa” non-group while, with totally straight faces, equating the blood drawn by lunatic gunmen of the far right with the inconvenience to a few Republican elected officials of being driven out of their favorite neighborhood watering hole by a few harsh words from an unhappy constituent.  He endorses violence in support of his own agenda, whether that violence takes the form of  body-slamming political opponents, Hulk Hogan style, “knocking the crap out of” people who attend his rallies to show their opposition, or finding a way to justify a neo-Nazi rally in which one loon drove a car into a crowd of people by insisting that there are, that there possibly could be, good people on both sides of that particular issue.

What was the Saturday massacre in Pittsburgh if not a response to Trump’s call for a defense of that agenda?

What was last week’s arrest of a man who mailed bombs to some of Trump’s highest-profile public critics if not a response to Trump’s call for a defense of that agenda?

At his urging, his people are out for blood.

On Saturday they got some.

Now, that blood is on his hands and on theirs.

(more tomorrow)



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