On October 27, 2018, eleven people attending the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg were killed for being Jewish. Wielding a semiautomatic AR-15 and three handguns, Robert Bowers allegedly shouted “all Jews must die” before opening fire on the congregation.
A day before the massacre, Bowers posted that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization which the Tree of Life synagogue supports, “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.”
These “invaders” are meant in reference to immigrants and the Central American migrant caravans according to his previous postings.
Two days after the shooting, President Trump tweeted something similar saying that the migrant caravans are “an invasion of our country and our Military is waiting for you!” The actions following both of these statements are, of course, extremely different, but the rhetoric presented in each is uncomfortably comparable. They exemplify a strategy of dehumanizing the other. It is an attempt to make the foreign scary.
“I think the risk of the rhetoric that is floating around today is that if you are in a position of power and authority, people will look to you to legitimize a specific worldview,” said Maryville College Associate Professor of History, Dr. Aaron Astor. “That rhetoric matters.”
It will always be unclear what led to the massacre in Pittsburg. The true motives of the killer will never be known. Yet, extremists are constantly searching for validation of their actions. Are acts of violence being unintentionally justified?
If messages of delusional hate and fear are propagated by those in power, not only are killers, racists, and violent extremists vindicated, they are encouraged.