alt-right, anti-semitism, bigotry, FBI, Gab, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS, Im-Politic, Immigration, Jews, letter bombs, Open Borders, Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, political violence, refugees, Robert Bowers, Trump, xenophobia
Yesterday morning’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting hit home especially hard for me – and not just because many of the victims, and the clear targets, were fellow Jews. I also attended college with numerous students from the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the atrocity took place, and recently learned that a professional friend hales from there as well. I’m no longer in touch with the folks from college, but for all I know some of the victims were their friends or loved ones. And although I’ve never visited the neighborhood itself, the descriptions I’ve heard suggest that other than being a little more urbanized, it’s not so different from the one I’m from on the north shore of Long Island.
Then there are the political and public policy angles: Apparent murderer Robert Bowers was an active participant on the alt-right and highly xenophobic social media platform Gab, and was especially infuriated by the activities of HIAS, (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) a Jewish group that seeks to assist immigrants, refugees, and other newcomers to the United States. I’m a strong supporter of President Trump’s efforts to reduce illegal immigration and control more tightly some forms of illegal immigration. But as I’ve written before, his words on immigration and other issues have too often been unnecessarily inflammatory or insensitive or simply clueless.
(I’m much less ambivalent about claims that Mr. Trump has singlehandedly pushed American politics in general into a more violent phase with his often harsh attacks on Democratic party and other political opponents. Yes, the accused sender of his week’s letter bombs sent to some of these figures over the last week is a Trump supporter. But it’s time for the Trump critics to start recognizing how their own over-the-top and often even harsher language has played a role in generating acts like the attempted mass shooting of Republican members of Congress in the Washington, D.C. area in June, 2017.)
But before anyone starts viewing the Pittsburgh shooting as a reason for fully embracing an Open Borders agenda for the Western Hemisphere, and for refugees from the Middle East, and making even louder calls demonize Mr. Trump as a Hitler-in-waiting, or white supremacist apologist, or dog-whistler to racists and fascists, and/or to impeach him for this supposed record, they should consider this newspaper paragraph:
“Stunned congregants rallied in prayer to a bullet-pocked, swastika-smeared synagogue today as police pursued a hate-crime motive in the [Pittsburgh-area] shooting rampage that left five people dead.”
No, this isn’t an early report of yesterday’s murders. It’s the lead from a newspaper account of a spree of anti-semitic (and racist and xenophobic) killings and vandalism in the Pittsburgh suburbs in April, 2000. That’s a decade-and-a-half before President Trump’s inauguration, and almost as long before he announced his White House run. To refresh your memory, the chief executive then was Bill Clinton. And the list of presidential primary candidates for Democrats and Republicans alike wasn’t exactly dominated by extremists, and those considered outside the mainstream of either party (like Patrick J. Buchanan) didn’t get very far. Yet according to FBI data, that year was actually tied for the highest number of annual anti-semitic hate crimes for the 1996-2016 period. (The Bureau’s 2017 data will probably be coming out a bit later this year.)
In other words, anti-semitism in the United States is nothing new, violent anti-semitism in the United States is nothing new (remember the attack at the Overland Park, Kansas Jewish Community Center of 2014 – also well before the Age of Trump – although none of the white supremacist’s victims was Jewish), and even violent anti-semitism in the Pittsburgh area is nothing new.
It’s completely appropriate to voice outrage at the killer and the mail-bomb sender, about anti-semitism, and about bigotry and unreasoning hatred, about politically motivated violence of all kinds (nothing new in American history, either – as presidential assassinations alone should make all too clear), and about incendiary speech from all manner of U.S. leaders. But those insisting that the nation would be free of such problems if only Mr. Trump had never run for president may have some unreasoning hatred issues of their own.