The suspected gunmen in the shooting Saturday morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue has been identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, according to law enforcement officials. Bowers appears to be the person behind an account on the social media network Gab that frequently posted conspiracies about Jewish world domination, holocaust denial, and anti-Semitic vitriol.
A little over two weeks ago, a social media account that bears Bowers name and was subsequently deleted from Gab after being archived, posted about HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society): “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided.” The Gab post then linked to HIAS’ event page for its “National Refugee Shabbat,” an event detailed in a Tablet article last week.
From that article:
HIAS was founded in 1881 to help Jews escaping Russian pogroms. Since then, it’s worked on behalf of immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced persons; starting in the early 2000s, it expanded its vision beyond Jews, assisting vulnerable people in the aftermath of conflicts around the world. Today, the number of displaced persons is the highest it’s been in history.
Then, this morning, the same Gab account bearing Bowers’ name that had earlier made the threatening comments towards HIAS, posted this: “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.”
Saturday morning, while Jewish congregants were gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, a man, believed to be Bowers, entered the building, reportedly shouted “All Jews must die” and opened fire. Multiple people were reported killed in the shooting with more people injured, including four police officers. Following the shooting, congregants barricaded themselves inside the synagogue while the gunman began firing at responding police officers before surrendering. Bowers, who is believed to be from Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania, was subsequently taken to a hospital under police custody.
The Gab social media network, where the threats to HIAS linked to Bowers appeared, was established in 2016 as an unregulated and unrestricted alternative to Twitter. It quickly became a haven for the alt-right, functioning as a clearinghouse for neo-Nazi memes, racist and anti-Semitic theories and invective, and as an arena for frequent infighting within far right.
In response to the shooting, HIAS posted this statement from its official Twitter account:
As we try to process this horrifying tragedy, we pray that the American Jewish community and the country can find healing. https://t.co/q9PRaDqL82 #Pittsburgh #synagogueshooting
— HIAS (@HIASrefugees) October 27, 2018
For more context on anti-Semitism in America, start here:
Jacob Siegel is Senior Editor of News and The Scroll, Tablet’s daily afternoon news digest, which you can subscribe to here.