On October 27th, 2018, gunman Robert Bowers took the lives of eleven congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Amongst the dead were Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
The gunman, Robert Bowers, had a track-record of deeply anti-semitic behavior. In addition to yelling anti-semitic epithets, he also attacked on Saturday, which for observers of Judaism is Shabbat, a day of rest and relaxation. Shortly before entering the building, Bowers posted a message on social-media platform Gab.
Gab, a website with almost no content restrictions, is favored and used by many fringe radicals. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in,” the post wrote.
Bowers is being charged with 44 criminal counts, 11 of which are federal hate crimes, all of which carry the maximum penalty of death. U.S Attorney Scott Brady is leading the charge to prosecute this act of grotesque violence, and he has filed motions to pursue the death penalty.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both signaled their interest in pursuing the death penalty, with President Trump not mincing words: “When people do this, they should get the death penalty”.
Beyond anti-semitism, It is unclear what motivated Bowers. Bowers said in a post on Gab four hours before the shooting, that he didn’t vote for President Trump, because he perceived President Trump to be too supportive of the Jewish community. President Trump visited the scene, placing a stone he brought from the White House on the fence outside of the synagogue, with the First Lady placing a white rose, both Jewish burial traditions. As President Trump’s motorcade passed by protestors, he spent more than an hour at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center visiting victims and police officers.
In the wake of the shooting, many have taken steps to politicize the massacre. Many opponents of the President have accused him of being partially responsible for what happened on the 27th of October. Paul Carberry, a resident of the neighborhood where the shooting happened told the Star Tribune that “He didn’t pull the trigger, but his verbiage and actions don’t help.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement where she urged congress to “finally act on commonsense, bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation”.
However, Shayna Marcus, a nurse who helped victims on-scene shortly after the shooting believed focusing on the President wasn’t the right thing to do, “I don’t think focusing on Trump is the answer — or on politics”, Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the President, buffed the sentiment, stating “If people are there to protest, that’s their right. For the president, it was not a moment for politics”. Neither Democratic or Republican leaders were present in Pittsburgh after the shooting, despite being invited by the President.