At 9:54 AM on October 27, the joyous occasion of a baby-naming ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh was shattered when a lone gunman entered with the intent of committing a hate crime. This murderer chose to target the Jewish congregation during their worship services for brutal slayings to further his own racist agenda.
Robert Bowers entered the Synagogue with hate in his heart, rifle and pistols in hand. Eleven dead and two wounded later, he attempted to exit, and he exchanged fire with the first responding police officer, wounding them in the exchange.
Two uniformed officers, two SWAT members, and three civilians were injured from gunshots as police engaged the assailant. Full credit to the brave officers of the Pittsburgh police, who did not hesitate in the face of an active shooter, and took all necessary measures, at the risk of their own lives, to secure the safety of the public. The shooter is in custody, wounded but stable, awaiting charges for his crimes.
The reasons for this shooting are sadly not unfamiliar to those of us watching the changing face of our society: the greater open advocacy of hatred against minorities. In the suspect's social media posts, he subscribed to the right wing conspiracy theory that “the Jews” were behind the migrant caravans fleeing failed states in Central and South America, calling them “Invaders.”
"I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered," Bowers wrote. "Screw your optics, I'm going in."
It is becoming more common to hear the language of war being used to describe economic migrants; the term "migrant" is being either equated or replaced with "invaders," with the matching call to treat them as enemies of war, responding not with law enforcement or border patrol tactics, but with artillery and machine gun fire. While the border issues are complex and there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, this rhetoric is becoming common in the calls to send the army to deal with the migrants. You cannot call for war from the pulpit, from the assembly floor, or from the television studio without expecting that someone will listen, will take up arms, and will seek out those you have described as invaders or enemies, and will murder them under the delusion they are somehow defending something other than blind hatred.
The shooter was a fool. His arguments are utter nonsense, and most likely deliberate falsehoods uttered for the simple reason that Antisemitism is a traditional outlet for European oligarchies in the face of rising internal strife. The European cultures that settled North America brought with them some of the same baggage and habits. When a scapegoat is needed to blame internal problems on, the cry to blame the Jew for the troubles of the day is one of the most shameful tactics of a morally bankrupt elite afraid of the anger against their own excesses. It is shameful because it tends to work.
Hatred and acts of hate inspired vandalism and violence are on the rise against the Jewish, the LBGTQIA+ community, those who dress in cultural clothes from outside mainstream European and English speaking North America, and of course, those that dare to speak any language other than English in public.
There is a war being waged on our streets and in our hearts. It is not being waged by immigrants, or Jews, or LGBTQIA+. It is being waged by the most privileged class, straight white men, against anyone who has committed the crime of being born not the same as they, or for the crime of being the same as they but not supporting their hate filled causes.
The Troth is preparing right now to send its members along with leaders of Heathens Against Hate and the Alliance For Inclusive Heathenry to the Parliament of World Religions to join with those of other faiths and cultures to build greater understanding and respect among all peoples of faith.
There are two choices that lie before our peoples in North America today. The first choice is to look at the differences between us and know fear, answering it with hate. This choice leads to riots, vandalism, assaults, and acts of cowardly murder like today's Synagogue shooting. The second choice is to look at the differences between us and seek to understand, to celebrate what each of us brings to this wonderful diverse culture that makes North America the great experiment and leading light of freedom.
We have chosen the second. We stand with the people of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue congregation as they struggle to deal with the shameful acts of this misguided and hate-filled murderer. We choose to celebrate each other’s differences, choosing understanding, not fear. We choose to build community, not to foster hatred. We ask all people of faith, indeed, all people of integrity of all faiths and none to stand with us in condemning the empowering of hatred, and the cowardly actions of today's Synagogue shooter.
John T Mainer, Redesman of The Troth