Home > Uncategorized > Unhinged Hate and the Caravan Boogeyman – posted 11/4/2018

Unhinged Hate and the Caravan Boogeyman – posted 11/4/2018

Usually in trying to understand the reasons for murder, the motives and thinking of a gunman are not starkly etched. A degree of mystery is the norm. That cannot be said in the case of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bowers.

Immediately before shooting and killing eleven people in the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers left a record. He went online and posted on Gab, an extremely anti-semitic and racist social media site.

In his last post before the shooting, Bowers singled out HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a little known immigrant advocacy organization. Bowers wrote:

“HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Witnesses at the temple said that before he started shooting, Bowers shouted, “All Jews must die”. It would appear that Bowers blamed Jews in America for an invasion of non-white immigrants. Somehow he saw these immigrants as destined to slaughter white people.

Bowers had a history of making disparaging comments about Jews on Gab. He had previously written “Jews are the children of Satan”. He posted a picture of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps to cremate Jews with the caption “Make Ovens 1488 F. Again”.

In considering Bowers’ acts, context and timing matter. The invasion he feared, the so-called caravan, has been a recent obsession of President Trump and Fox News. By relentless fear-mongering and constant repetition, Trump and his media servant worked to create a boogeyman.

The caravan, a collection of up to 7,000 Hondurans, seeking to escape violence in their home country and to obtain asylum, was made out to be an existential threat to the United States, even though it was still in southern Mexico.

It is inconceivable Bowers would have acted as he did when he did without the caravan narrative promoted by Trump and Fox News. That narrative flipped Bowers’ switch and led him to act out.

Those who fail to see the connection between the hate and fear Trump promotes and the actions of Bowers are kidding themselves. While Trump may have seen the caravan as a ploy to mobilize his voters to the polls, Bowers’ murders are a form of collateral damage. Trump’s anti-immigration rants have emboldened and inspired white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Right wing authoritarian movements invariably collect and surface unhinged sociopaths like Bowers. The fact that he was even more extreme than others in the alt right does not minimize Trump’s responsibility. With his support for the “good” Nazi collaborators at Charlottesville, Trump has given the alt right a pass on violence.

People like Bowers and other white supremacists are an integral part of Trump’s base. They totally stand behind his presidency because they see him advancing their racist and anti-semitic movement, mainstreaming their views.

I was surprised by Bowers’ focus on HIAS. I have a personal connection to the organization. My sister, Lisa Baird, was HIAS Pa’s first staff attorney. Based in Philadelphia, Lisa primarily handled asylum claims. She had an extremely diverse caseload representing clients from all over the world. She worked for HIAS from 1993 to 1998.

HIAS Pa now has a staff of 40 and about 14 attorneys. It is the largest nonprofit provider of immigration legal services in Pennsylvania, specializing in representing unaccompanied minors and survivors of domestic violence and victims of crimes.

There is also a part of HIAS that focuses on refugee resettlement. It is largely a social service department, providing case management to newly arrived refugees assigned to the agency.

HIAS has actually been around for well over 100 years. On TV, I saw the writer Masha Gessen explain that HIAS had helped her emigrate from Russia. The organization has a history of helping Russian Jews, escaping anti-semitism there, come to the United States.

Bowers’ view that Jews are behind immigration of non-whites is part of the white nationalist world view. In this fact-free perspective, Jews are the puppet masters pulling the strings, financing the caravan and promoting non-white immigration.

To these folks on the alt right, any immigration of non-whites conflicts with their goal of a white ethno-state. For them, just the presence of non-white people equals slaughter of white people. They want to deport all whom they classify as non-white, including Blacks, Latinos and Jews.

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I do feel the need to address Trump supporters. I expect many of you were horrified by Bowers’ actions. I also expect many would deny that Trump bears any responsibility for these events. But if you oppose anti-semitism and racism, maybe you should think about how Trump’s pronouncements promoting fear and hatred of different racial groups fuel domestic terrorists like Bowers.

As a society, we have underestimated the danger coming from the far right. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in the wake of Charlottesville in August 2017 found that roughly 22 million Americans call it “acceptable” to hold neo-nazi or white supremacist views. Willful indifference is not an option. It is imperative that we actively resist this pernicious form of homegrown extremism.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: