Trending Topics:

Honor the Tree of Life victims by carrying on the fight for liberal democracy

US Politics
on 17 Comments

It’s been a week since Robert Bowers, age 46, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA and (allegedly) killed eleven worshippers, and injured six more. A week later we still don’t know much about this man. We know his father killed himself after being charged with attempted rape in 1979. But Bowers the son had no prior criminal record. He was unknown to police. Neighbors said he seemed normal.

But Bowers was not normal. He had irrational, crazy ideas. He left a trail of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rants on social media. His posts referred to Jews as “filthy,” “evil,” and “an infestation.” According to media reports, just an hour before the shooting, he posted “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] 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.”

The “screw your optics” comments appears to refer to online discussions by White Nationalists since the Charlottesville protest suggesting that they should bide their time and organize politically, because only with political power can “any type of violence-oriented political agenda” ever be possible.  See, e.g. Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man writing at +972 Magazine.

For more than two years Donald Trump has railed against immigrants. “They come to murder,” he says, they are “animals,” “the worst people.” He has kept up such hate speech even after the Tree of Life tragedy last week, for example prominently promoting a racist smear political ad this Thursday. The ad ties a caravan of desperate Central American refugees (nowhere near the U.S. border) to a remorseless convicted murderer, and asks “who else will Democrats let in?”

“We are a Republican family,” said a man retired, in his late 60’s, as we walked by canvassing for Dr. Kim Schreier in WA 8th Congressional District this week. He meant his comment as a short cut for “I don’t have to think or talk to you about the issues!”  I did not say, but should have: “It’s time for a serious gut check as to what it means to be a ‘Republican family’ in the age of Trump.”

Is it more of the same, this Tree of Life mass shooting,  or is this different, we wonder?

Bowers had an active gun license and owned 21 firearms. Officials said he used an AR-15 assault rifle and three .357 Glock handguns in his assault. It unites this shooting with so many others of recent years. Bowers is just another person with crazy ideas, and too many guns …. and Congress remains unmoved as ever. Mother Jones has compiled a list of mass shootings in the U.S. the past 36 years. Here are the 16 most grizzly:

  • Las Vegas strip massacre (10/1/17)……………………58 dead, 546 injured
  • Orlando Night Club  (6/12/16)……………………………49 dead, 53 injured
  • Virginia Tech  (4/16/7)……………………………………….32 dead, 23 injured
  • Luby’s Killeen TX (10/16/91)……………………………..24 dead, 20 injured
  • Sandy Hook Elementary (12/14/12)…………………..27 dead, 2 injured
  • Texas First Babtist Church (11/5/17)…………………26 dead, 20 injured
  • San Ysidro McDonalds, CA (7/18/84)…………………22 dead, 19 injured
  • Marjorie Stoneman Douglas HS, FL (2/14/18)…..17 dead, 14 injured
  • U.S. Post Office, Edmond OK (8/20/86)………………15 dead, 6 injured
  • San Bernardino (12/2/15)…………………………………..14 dead, 21 injured
  • Binghampton NY (4/03/09)………………………………..14 dead, 4 injured
  • Fort Hood, TX (11/05/09)……………………………………13 dead, 30 injured
  • Columbine High School (4/20/99)………………………13 dead, 24 injured
  • Aurora Theater Shooting, CO (7/20/12)…………….12 dead, 70 injured
  • Washington Navy Yard, D.C. (9/16/13)………………12 dead, 8 injured
  • Tree of Life Synagogue, PA (10/27/18)………………11 dead, 6 injured

These shooters all had crazy and irrational ideas. Does it matter if in addition they were mentally ill, depressed, or had some venal motive? The results are equally destructive, horrid, sad, and depressing.  Do we need to parse a rationale or motive from these heinous irrational acts?

We are human, so we reach for explanations. We psychoanalyze Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (the Columbine shooters) and reach conclusions like “The Depressive and the Psychopath.” As if that explained anything. Klebold may have been a depressive loser and Harris a psychopath, but ultimately that is not an explanation independent of their act.

If Klebold was a depressive,  and Harris a psychopath, Bowers was an anti-Semite. All three were driven by irrational, crazy ideas. Can we weed out crazy ideas? “We shouldn’t try to regulate guns, we should do more to address mental illness,” said an undecided voter on my canvassing list this week. But can we tell when irrational and crazy ideas (always wide-spread in any population) will translate into destructive individual action?  The army was criticized for not weeding out Major Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) because we could point to evidence he was mentally disturbed after the fact. Trouble is, it’s easy to trace evidence of crazy and irrational thinking in a shooter after the fact,  but it’s not usually possible to predict when irrational and crazy ideas will lead to destructive action.

We can’t solve the problem of mass shootings by eliminating crazy ideas. Anti-Semitism is no exception. But we can do something about guns: we could ban all civilian possession of assault rifles; we could require vigorous mental health screening upon purchase of a gun and periodically upon re-issuance of a license; we could require safety training before issuing a gun license; we could require insurance; we could strictly limit the number of guns someone may own. These are practical measures that could help reduce the incidence of mass shootings, no matter what stripe of hate and crazy ideas a potential shooter may be harboring.

We can, and should, also insist that our politicians not fan the flames of hate. Trump has been fanning the flames of hate against immigrants since he announced his run for the presidency. “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” said Trump atop that elevator in Trump Tower in New York. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” From that speech, through his efforts to ban Muslims from coming to the country, from slashing refugee quotas and dismantling the refugee resettlement program, through the hateful and slanderous campaign advertisement he distributed this week, Trump and his administration have fanned the flames of fear and hate against immigrants.

And as Peter Beinart has noted in The Atlantic, there is a direct line between Trump’s fanning the flames of fear and hate against immigrants and the crazy ideas expressed by Robert Bowers last week. “HIAS likes to bring in people that kill our people … I’m going in,” said Bowers. He had absorbed and was repeating Trump’s false and crazy idea that immigrants are murderers and rapists. Jewish Americans have been on the forefront of the battle for social justice in America, notes Beinart. They were leaders in the Civil Rights movement. They are leaders in assisting refugees. This puts them in the cross-hairs of White Nationalists who want to undo civil rights for Blacks and other minorities, and who want to turn away refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Latin America in order to secure a Christian White Nationalist America.

If Beinart is right, this makes the victims in the Tree of Life Synagogue not victims of an ancient virus called anti-Semitism: it makes them soldiers in the front lines for a just world. This is a role the brothers Rosenthal may not have known they were playing. But the narrative we adopt for this event, of course, is for us. Through our narrative we choose how to honor these victims, and we choose how to think about the threat going forward. And the threat may well increase as demonstrated by seven arson attacks on New York synagogues and schools in the week following the Tree of Life shooting.

Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Labor Party in Israel, encouraged American Jews to move to Israel, “because this is their home.” Gabbay sees no role for Jews to play for effecting a just society in America; if the going gets tough here, they should slink away to Israel, he suggests. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, raised hackles on a visit last year when she suggested that American Jews don’t know much about the Middle East, and thus should not have much say, because they don’t have their children serve as soldiers–either in the American army or the Israeli army. But if Hotovely was right that American Jews don’t send their children to fight in the armed forces in the Middle East, she missed that many of these kids are fighting for social justice, and for liberal democracy, both in the Middle East and here at home. If the Tree of Life Synagogue was targeted by Bowers because he perceived Jews to be fighting for world justice and liberal democracy, two things anathema to White Nationalists, why not honor and celebrate these eleven victims as heroic soldiers in the fight for liberal democracy? The rest of us should close ranks behind them and join the fight.

This post first appeared on Roland Nikles’s blog today.

Roland Nikles
About Roland Nikles

Roland Nikles is a Bay Area writer and attorney. He blogs here: rolandnikles.blogspot.com. And you can follow him on twitter @RolandNikles

Other posts by .


Posted In:

17 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    November 4, 2018, 1:39 pm

    RE: “We are a Republican family,” said a man retired, in his late 60’s . . . I did not say, but should have: “It’s time for a serious gut check as to what it means to be a ‘Republican family’ in the age of Trump.” ~ Roland Nikles

    MY COMMENT: Truer words never went unspoken! I should know; for much of my life, I considered myself a moderate Republican. Very misguided!

  2. annie
    annie
    November 4, 2018, 2:27 pm

    If Beinart is right, this makes the victims in the Tree of Life Synagogue not victims of an ancient virus called anti-Semitism: it makes them soldiers in the front lines for a just world. This is a role the brothers Rosenthal may not have known they were playing. But the narrative we adopt for this event, of course, is for us.

    the victims can be both victims of anti semitism and soldiers in the front lines for a just world, one doesn’t contradict the other. had bower’s act not been fueled by anti semitism (an argument the despicable frank gaffney made too btw) there are countless organizations who support refugees, why pick this one and attack a synagogue? had bowers attacked a latino refugee org and killed as many latinos, would anyone consider the ethnicity of the victims was not a consideration?

    If the Tree of Life Synagogue was targeted by Bowers because he perceived Jews to be fighting for world justice and liberal democracy, two things anathema to White Nationalists, why not honor and celebrate these eleven victims as heroic soldiers in the fight for liberal democracy?

    because, as you stated earlier This is a role the brothers Rosenthal may not have known they were playing.

    people do good deeds and help eachother out all the time, this is, or should be, normal. especially for helping people in need. this is not generally thought of as heroic or life threatening, it just what a good moral person does. and, as you say, we can choose to adopt whatever narrative we want for this atrocity. i can’t adopt the narrative the rosenthal brothers were brave soldiers heroically going into battle because this implies they had a reasonable expectation of being attacked or slaughtered when they went to their synagogue that morning. it also implies that anyone following their conscience to help refugees is a brave hero instead of a very normal person doing what’s right.

    people shouldn’t fear refugees or fear helping them although sometimes, depending on ones actions, helping refugees is indeed life threatening (certain actions there are expectations of putting ones life in danger).

    maybe i am making too much of this. i have expressed before i feel like a warrior fighting the good fight, but i don’t ever expect someone will kill me for it. i don’t confuse myself w/being a hero. not when there are others on the front lines. these were innocent victims killed for their ethnicity and for their association with humanitarian work. they didn’t willingly put themselves on the front lines, some fanatic sought them out on the sabbath in their place of worship.

    that photo of the Rosenthals, so so sad.

  3. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    November 4, 2018, 3:20 pm

    ´Most grizzly’ should be ´most grisly’

    Bowers went through a process that Israeli Jewish kids go through for their IDF service. ´Others’ are dehumanized and diminished to the point that the normal controls against murder are lifted.

    The tree of life people are more like Palestinians – decent, kind, showing empathy.

  4. edthespark
    edthespark
    November 4, 2018, 3:59 pm

    The right way to honour the victims is to learn to speak hebrew.I signed up for an online hebrew course on duolingo.I urge jews worldwide who cannot speak hebrew to do so.

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      November 4, 2018, 6:23 pm

      Learn terms such as neighbor procedure and understand how human rights abuses are rationalised. Try the neighbor procedure at home. Break into your neighbors house and take one of the kids hostage. Put a gun to its head and demand free pizza in a German accent. Welcome to modern Hebrew.

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      November 4, 2018, 7:58 pm

      “The right way to honour the victims is to learn to speak hebrew.”

      Can you explain why you think this will honour the victims?

  5. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    November 4, 2018, 4:00 pm

    Liberal democracy is anathema to Israel with its alliance with the Evangelical fruitcake wing of the GOP. Never trust a junkie

    https://forward.com/fast-forward/413488/gop-candidate-no-peace-in-israel-until-jews-muslims-convert-to/

  6. Mooser
    Mooser
    November 4, 2018, 5:54 pm

    “Jewish Americans have been on the forefront of the battle for social justice in America, notes Beinart. They were leaders in the Civil Rights movement. They are leaders in assisting refugees.”

    That is no reason all Jewish Americans should be under suspicion. There are many working hard to defeat those things, and the difference should be respected.

  7. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    November 4, 2018, 6:26 pm

    Israel is anti democratic now. Allied with a medieval theocracy like itself.

    @aarondmiller2

    Netanyahu lawyering for MBS’s in Washington says Khashoggi’s murder is horrible; but MBS too big to fail. Israel and Saudi now have something in common. The US special relationship with both has moved from special to exclusive to detriment of US interests.

    • Mayhem
      Mayhem
      November 4, 2018, 8:08 pm

      The moderators at MW should have shafted Maghlawatan’s posts here because
      a) they have nothing to do with the topic
      b) one addresses aarondmiller2. Who?
      c) they transgress the worthwhile message of the article with irrelevant drivel

  8. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    November 4, 2018, 10:36 pm

    « Gabbay sees no role for Jews to play for effecting a just society in America; if the going gets tough here, they should slink away to Israel, he suggests. « 

    This is another huge difference between US Jews and Israeli Jews. Tikkun Olam is strong in the US while it was taken out the back and strangled in Israel.

    https://youtu.be/OMG7Fze6sgQ

    No need for TO when you can put your boot on someone’s throat and do it in Hebrew

  9. Jackdaw
    Jackdaw
    November 5, 2018, 12:56 am

    @Roland

    How about honouring their memory by not using them politically.

    See how Magh has already dishonoured them?

    • eljay
      eljay
      November 5, 2018, 8:34 am

      || Jackdaw: @Roland

      How about honouring their memory by not using them politically.

      See how Magh has already dishonoured them? ||

      See how Jackdaw dishonoured them a week earlier:

      The synagogue murderer killed off some of the ‘Old Guard’; shabbos worshiping Jews in their 60’s, 70’s and 80s’. The younger generation of Jews is killing American Jewry through assimilation and intermarriage.

      • Jackdaw
        Jackdaw
        November 5, 2018, 1:40 pm

        I made the victims out to be martyrs. How is that a dishonour?

        *idiot*

      • eljay
        eljay
        November 5, 2018, 2:16 pm

        || Jackdaw: I made the victims out to be martyrs. How is that a dishonour? … ||

        You were using them to try to score / make a point and the only thing you made them out to be was “killed off”.

        || … *idiot* ||

        *jackass*

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 6, 2018, 11:40 am

        If “Jackdaw” goes on commenting for as long as he can, we will witness quite a harrowing process, I fear.

  10. FightTribalism
    FightTribalism
    November 5, 2018, 1:17 pm

    Yes there are many Jews on the forefront of the fight for civil liberties. Unfortunately there are also Jews that fund and organize propaganda efforts against Muslims and immigrants.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/20/islamophobia-funding-cair-berkeley-report

    These people need to be called out in connection to, not just this shooting, but also arson against refugee centers in Europe, pushing for wars in the middle east and other calamities that they deliberately caused.

Leave a Reply