We don’t yet know everything that motivated the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers. And, truth be told, we may never know exactly what psychological aberrance led to his deadly rampage this Saturday morning.
Bower’s twitter postings, however, give at least a partial window into his soul. The man is a rabid nationalist. He believes that Jews seek to control the world. He is convinced that Jews, via HIAS, the refugee-rights and -resettlement organization formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, are bringing in “invaders”—such as the caravan of destitute and terrified Central American families walking their way north through Mexico.
Bowers is a Nazi sympathizer. And, unlike Cesar Sayoc, the man suspected of mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to political and media figures around the country over the past week, he hates Trump, believing that Trump isn’t nearly nationalist enough and, in fact, is controlled by a cabal of globalist Jews.
But here’s the thing: While Bowers might fashion himself as an anti-Trump figure, the reemergence of deadly anti-Semitic violence perfectly fits the awful political moment Trump himself is presiding over. The viciously nationalist rhetoric Trump now uses at his rallies, his onslaught against “globalists”—the word itself, along with “cosmopolitan” has always been anti-Semitic code for “Jewish”—his demonizing of immigrants, of refugees, of asylum seekers, his accusation that George Soros is somehow behind the caravan of Hondurans and Guatemalans, this is quite simply fodder for anti-Semites. “Soros” to anti-Semites in 2018 is a similar slur to “Rothschild” in the previous century.
Most American Jews are all too aware of what Trump’s rhetoric and actions can lead to. While much of the Orthodox community supported him in 2016, the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters did not. An American Jewish Committee poll last year found that 77 percent of US Jews opposed Trump. In solidarity with other immigrants’ rights organizations, groups like HIAS have continually sounded the alarm on the toxic nature of Trumpism. And the rabbi of the synagogue that was attacked today himself penned an article earlier this year warning of the dangers of both the gun culture and the anti-immigrant moment. “Our school students deserve better. Immigrant families deserve better. We deserve better,” he wrote.
And yet, two years into his violent, nationalist presidency, a number of high-profile Jewish political and business figures continue to support and enable his presidency. Despite the fact that Trump has repeatedly dallied with the far right of US politics; despite the fact that the KKK supports him and that fascist websites such as The Daily Stormer routinely cheer him on; despite the fact that he found it impossible to unequivocally condemn neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville last summer; despite the fact he retweets tweets from virulent, conspiracy-minded organizations and individuals; despite the fact that several of his speeches over the past two years eerily echo language from speeches given by Mussolini and Hitler—despite all this, Jewish advisers to, and backers of, Trump such as Sheldon Adelson, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller have utterly abnegated their responsibility to call him to account.
Non-Jewish advisers and cabinet members have, of course, similarly failed in this basic moral duty. In fact, as the nationalist rhetoric, the incitement to violence, has intensified over the past months, none of Trump’s inner circle, Jewish or otherwise, have taken a principled stand and withdrawn their support for the Make America Great Again movement. None have tried to staunch the moral bleed.
But, as I sit at my desk and try to make sense of the utterly senseless taking of life at a synagogue named “Tree of Life,” I find myself particularly horrified by Jewish enablers of the Trumpian madness, all of whom know only too well the vast destruction that Jews suffered in the recent past at the hands of bigoted nationalists.
Make a devil’s bargain, and, inevitably that bargain boomerangs. Adelson, for example, channels tens of millions of dollars into backing Trump, because he likes Trump’s ultra-tough stance on behalf of Netanyahu’s particular vision for Israel. Well, in the short-term Adelson gets the chest-thumping president and administration he wants. In the long-term, however, he helps unleash a violent, blood-and-soil nationalism in the United States—encompassing Trump supporters such as Cesar Sayoc, but also people like Bowers who think Trump is far too moderate—that will, as we see now in Pittsburgh, chew up in its maw anything and anyone seen to be “outsider.”
Miller, whose own ancestors were refugees, has helped Trump shred America’s immigration system, imposing untold misery on huge numbers of people through policies like “family separation”; the drastic contraction in the number of refugees admitted; travel bans against people from several Muslim-majority countries; the denial of visas to same-sex partners of diplomats; the rethinking of “public charge” definitions so as to lock out poorer immigrants; and now the language of “national emergency” and the calling up of hundreds of active-duty soldiers against members of the Central American caravan.
Of course, none of these people are individually responsible for Bower’s heinous act. But they all are intelligent enough, well-read enough, to know that throughout history nationalist movements at some point include Jews among their enemies.
To all of Trump’s advisers and supporters who have spent the past years standing by silently while The Boss spits bile and injects venom into the political discourse, shame on you. The demonizing of the vulnerable is never morally justified; nor is it, ultimately, containable. When the most powerful man on earth uses his podium to dehumanize entire groups, it comes as no surprise when others, with less overt power but just as much animus, take up arms.
When Muslims, as a group, are seen as being a lethal threat to Christians; when American “nationalists” are rallied by political leaders to oppose outsiders who “infest” this land, as Trump put it a few months back, it’s no surprise that, eventually, other religious and ethnic minorities, including Jews, will also come to be seen as the enemy by many in the violent nationalist camp.
Sometimes arms will be taken up, as apparently was the case with Sayoc, in the name of the Great Leader. Other times, as with Bowers, they will be taken up ostensibly to finish a job the Great Leader has not followed through on.
It is past time for this viciousness, this godawful bloodshed, to stop. Whether the targets are Muslims or Jews, African Americans or Guatemalans, nothing justifies the toxic rhetoric and actions now coursing through the American body-politic. It is time for a moral awakening among ordinary American men, women, and children that shuts down this nationalist dystopia unleashed by Trump and his acolytes before it destroys us all.