President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will visit the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Tuesday to share their sympathies with the community around the Tree of Life Synagogue after 11 worshippers were killed during a shabbat service on Saturday.
But some community members say they don’t want Trump there. Eleven Jewish leaders with the Pittsburgh chapter of “Bend the Arc,” a progressive Jewish group, signed a letter telling Trump to stay away unless he denounces “white nationalism.”
“Yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” they wrote.
Trump, for his part, has denounced the actions shooter Robert Bowers, 46, who killed 11, and wounded six, including four police officers.
“Anti-Semitism is a plague to humanity and it is responsible for many of the worst horrors in human history,” said Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a media briefing on Tuesday. “The president cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish-Americans as part of his own family – the president is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren, his daughter is a Jewish-American, and his son-in-law is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.”
But since he took office, many have targeted Trump’s belligerence on the political stage and toward groups like Democrats and undocumented immigrants as hateful rhetoric that they say foments real-life violence – such as the recent mailing of pipe bombs to many prominent Democrats.
Bowers reportedly posted on the now-shuttered social media platform Gab that he would target Jews due to his rage over a Jewish-oriented nonprofit’s support for Latino immigrants currently participating in a so-called caravan to the U.S. – a movement Trump and other conservatives have harshly attacked.
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Bowers reportedly said before the shooting, referring to the group formerly known as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, before formally changing its name to just HIAS. ” I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
But on social media, conservatives and Republicans have condemned the attacks, noting that the shooter also called Trump in online postings a “globalist” and said he did not vote for Trump.
Lone gunman, full of hate
“This president has normalized hate since his campaign, so for people to place blame on him for the speech and incitement of violence is legitimate,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA, who was in Pittsburgh after the shooting. “This gunman also got a gun and decided to shoot up a bunch of people. How he got the gun, why he was able to get it, why civilians should have access to those types of guns are all policy issues we could and should be talking about in Harrisburg and Washington.”
Bowers used a modified AR-15, which CeaseFire, which has lobbied for years for stricter guns laws in the U.S., called the “mass shooter’s weapon of choice.”
The shooting came barely five days after a new Holocaust memorial opened in Center City Philadelphia.
“With anti-Semitic incidents in the US rising nearly 60 percent between 2016 and 2017 – the largest single-year increase ever documented by the Anti-Defamation League – we created the Plaza knowing that the need for Holocaust education and for tolerance is more important than ever,” the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation’s board of directors said in a statement. “We are devastated by how swiftly this need has been demonstrated.”
Meanwhile, Americans nationwide are being encouraged to protest the violence in Pittsburgh by attending synagogue this coming Saturday for shabbat services.