Multiple people are dead and several wounded — including four police officers — after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday morning.
The shooter is in custody, Pittsburgh Police report.
Gunfire erupted as a service was getting underway during a baby-naming ceremony.
“It sounded like a loud crash in the hallway,” said Stephen Weiss of Squirrel Hill, who was in Tree of Life services Saturday morning. Services were scheduled from 9:45 a.m. to noon.
As Mr. Weiss was running through the building, he heard loud, repeated gunfire that he said sounded like an automatic weapon. He ran to the basement and found the congregation holding services there sheltering in place. He then went back up to the main chapel and left the building, he said.
Authorities have the shooter in custody.
He is said to be forty-six year old Robert Bowers. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that an individual going by that name had threatened to attack the synagogue on the right wing social media platform Gab.
“HIAS 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,” Bowers’ posting said.
The posting was dated this morning.
HIAS, originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) refugee protection organization based in Silver Spring, Maryland. HIAS was founded in 1881 and nowadays is known by its acronym. It does not engage in electioneering activities. HIAS has a long history of supporting and advocating for refugees; it has helped resettle more than 4.5 million people since its inception.
Each year, HIAS organizes an event called the National Refugee Shabbat. It is an opportunity for participating Jewish congregations to create a Shabbat experience dedicated to refugees. This year’s event took place last weekend.
The parsha (Torah portion) for this shabbat is Lech Lecha, which describes the beginning of the experience of wandering in search of freedom for the Jewish people. This makes it a particularly meaningful opportunity to deepen our understanding of today’s global refugee crisis, connect with the Jewish movement for refugees, commit (or recommit) to taking action, and either celebrate your community’s achievements in working with refugees or launch new efforts.
The frequency with which right wing extremists like Bowers and MAGABomber Cesar Sayoc are resorting to acts of violence and terror is frightening.
No doubt we’re going to hear some Republican pundits say today “don’t politicize this tragedy”, like they always do. They can go take a refreshing swim in a lake. This tragedy happened because of our messed-up politics. It’s already political. And it would be wrong of us not to talk about that.
As I said yesterday, the Republican Party and Donald Trump must answer for this epidemic of violence. Trump has personally incited and encouraged violence on many occasions, and his Republican enablers have done nothing to rein him in. Quite the opposite. Trump’s hate filled rallies — which he holds frequently — are an opportunity for the likes of Sayoc and Bowers to become further radicalized.
The Hater-in-Chief, of course, doesn’t want to own his role. That’s because he wants to go on holding hate-filled rallies and saying hateful things.
And so, he makes nonsensical statements like this:
“It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world. And something has to be done.”
It is definitely in your power to do something, Donald: you can repent from your evil ways. You can stop holding hate-filled rallies that empower racists and white supremacists, and you can delete your Twitter account. You can announce that you don’t want people like Bowers or Sayoc as supporters. You can cease your attacks on refugees and Muslims and Latinos and other nonwhite populations.
But you’re not going to do any of that, we expect. And so, because you will not change, we will have to defeat you. We will have to overcome your politics of division and discord in order to save this country. And we will.
We can’t accept this. We can’t accept these evil acts as something we just have to put up with. Gun violence is preventable. Terrorism is preventable. The radicalization of people like Bowers and Sayoc is preventable.
How long before we find the political will to realize the change we need?
Hopefully, not long.