Politics & Policy

The World’s Oldest Virus

People pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., October 29, 2018. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

The man who gunned down eleven Jews from ages 54 to 97 in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday was committing violence in service of a distinct, ancient evil. Before Robert Bowers entered the synagogue, he wrote on Gab, a social-media website used mostly by the far-right fringe, that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society “likes to bring in invaders that kill our people,” adding, “I can’t sit by and let my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” After being apprehended, he told a SWAT officer that he “wanted all Jews to die” because they were committing “genocide against his people.”

Bowers committed the worst anti-Semitic attack in the history of the U.S. He interrupted a celebration of new life and terrorized Squirrel Hill, a tranquil Jewish community in a country where, as our friend John Podhoretz points out in the New York Post, Jews have been more fully integrated into civic life than in any country besides Israel. Anti-Semitic violence thankfully is still marginal here, especially when compared with Europe and the Arab world. But this attack is a reminder of the potency of the world’s oldest cultural virus.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who alerted the police to the attack on Saturday, is right that such evil “does not know religion, race, creed, [or] political party.” In the modern world, anti-Semitism is a fungible prejudice under which Jews have been branded capitalists or Communists, nationalists or globalists, pitiable and degraded or cunning and all-powerful. Its adherents are often convinced that they must extinguish Jews because Jews are trying to extinguish them. Bowers’s belief structure contains elements of white supremacy — he expressed concerns about mass migration and the eradication of the white race — but its core was the hatred of Jews, whom he believed were promoting white genocide through their supposed control of the government, the mass media, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

It should go without saying that such beliefs are appalling and not shared by anyone in the political mainstream. It wasn’t that long ago when an attack of this type was treated as an occasion for our political tribes to stop bickering and respond with a unified message. But the spectacle that unfolded over the weekend was sickening: As the blood was drying, there was a rush on the left to link the killing to Donald Trump, the Republican party, and conservatism more generally. The president inspired the killing, it was said, by drawing attention to the caravan of Central American migrants currently heading toward the U.S.–Mexico border and speculating on Twitter that George Soros was providing it with material support. Never mind that the murderer hated Trump and thought he was a “globalist” being manipulated by nefarious Jews, or that his apparent hatred of refugees and immigrants predated the caravan story.

We repeat: Those culpable for acts of violence are the individuals who perpetrate them. To suggest otherwise is to distract from the particular evil that Bowers represents. It is no secret that anti-Semites and white supremacists have felt emboldened in recent years, a disturbing trend. But the idea that Trump, Republicans, or conservatives caused Bowers to commit his heinous crime is facile and toxic, and we were sorry to see so many repeat it.

This isn’t to say the behavior of everyone on the right has been commendable in recent days. Soon after the second high-profile incident of domestic terrorism in the last week, the president returned to his over-the-top attacks on the media, including his signature, misbegotten line that it is the “enemy of the people.” Fringy conspiratorial thought has been climbing up the food-chain of the conservative media — Soros is not behind the migrant caravan or every left-wing protest in America. But none of this is incitement to mass murder.

The proper response to the terrible killing in Pittsburgh is a full-throated denunciation of anti-Semitism, an expression of support for the Jewish community, mourning, and prayer. There are more enduring and important things than tribal political infighting.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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