On Saturday morning, the United States witnessed one of its most horrific hate crimes to date: the killing of eleven worshippers inside Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue. The tragedy occurred at the hands of Robert Bowers, an outspoken anti-semite who stormed into Shabbat services armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, decrying his wish to "kill Jews."
When news first broke on Saturday morning, President Trump tweeted his condolences to the victim's families, followed by a plea for all Americans to come together against the forces of anti-semitism: "We must unite to conquer hate." However, only a day later, Trump decided to pick fault with the "Fake News" media, blaming the "hostile" and "inaccurate" reporting of his political enemies for the country's divisiveness and the recent outpouring of hate-motivated crimes.
Though the president would like to say that he supports an end to the virulent partisanship that plagues this country, his own actions only contribute to the fray. Trump's tweet about the news media's involvement in the synagogue shooting received over 180 thousand likes and 49 thousand retweets, over double the amount received by his tweet calling for unity. And it is apparent that the president's escalating twitter rants around immigration helped set the stage for what happened in Pittsburgh.
Looking to those antagonistic tweets and the radical responses they ignite on Twitter and beyond provides a key clue into Robert Bowers' hateful mindset. In his gab.com account, a social media platform that boasts its protection of "free speech" by enforcing practically no content restrictions, Bowers referred to those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on migrant caravans as "invaders," echoing Trump's sentiments in an October 25 tweet that called on migrants to turnaround and "go back to your Country." On October 29, a day after the shooting in Pittsburgh, Trump directly referred to the migrant caravans as an "invasion" of United States.
Bowers's pre-existing anger towards the Jewish people was further fueled when he learned that Jewish refugee advocacy group HIAS was supporting the migrants on the border. After criticizing the "evil" efforts of HIAS online and their attempts to aid "invaders," Bowers posted a page from HIAS's website that listed the locations of Shabbat services held on behalf of refugees, one of those locations being less than a mile away from Tree of Life synagogue.
Although Bowers himself criticized Trump in the past (mostly because of his Jewish family members), the similarities between the president's online ravings and those of a domestic terrorist should spark concern in every American. Trump's attacking response to the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and his partisan offenses in general, provide fertile ground for radical right-wing groups to spew their own violent messages online — groups that evidently inspired Bowers' own hateful posts and ultimately, his sickening rampage. The culture of hate that the president's tweets foment undoubtedly counteract any half-hearted calls for unity he may tout.