By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Robert Bowers’ demand that all Jews must die is no aberration. There were plenty of warnings before Bowers apparently murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh Oct. 27 that it was only a matter of time before a synagogue would be the target of a hate monster.
The signs were ignored or downplayed for several troubling reasons.
There is the widespread perception that Jews in America are so American; meaning so invisibly assimilated that a mass murder attack at a synagogue is remote. Such a devastating attack can’t happen because Jews are white, many have wealth, have economic and political influence, and are major players in art, culture and science in America.
That supposedly immunizes them from being the targets of the kind of hate-filled violence aimed at blacks, Hispanics and Muslims.
That has long been a myth. The almost ritualist scrawl of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic hate graffiti on synagogue walls, on gravesites in Jewish cemeteries and other acts of vandalism against Jewish businesses and religious institutions have filled up police blotters for years in America.
The FBI’s hate crime report in 2014 raised the first alarm. It found that Jews, not Muslims, were still the runaway target of religious hate crimes in the country. There’s been no change in that in the years since. Jews still top the list of hate crime victims.
These crimes have flown largely under the public radar because of the intense publicity that an attack on a Muslim mosque or an assault against a Muslim in a public place instantly gets. This stirs anger and outrage, gets lots of press coverage, and loud denunciations from politicians. However, the defacing of a Jewish gravesite gets little or no attention precisely because it has happened so often.
Attacks against Jews in Europe get much attention. This has an upside and downside. It stirs anger and mass protests in European countries. But the attacks also fuel the myth that anti-Semitism is largely a European problem that stems from Nazi atrocities during World War II, and the long, deadly and deep, history of anti-Semitism in Europe. Virulent anti-Semitism is mostly seen as a European problem, not an American one.
There was yet another warning sign that this was a delusion. In June 2014, two Neo-Nazi, anti-government spewing white supremacists gunned down two Las Vegas police officers and a bystander. What got only passing attention was that in the space of 24 hours after the murders, Stormfront’s website, blew up. There were nearly 200,000 threads and more than 2 million posts. This dwarfed the number of posts from all other topics on the site combined during that period.
Stormfront is the nation’s premier, self-promoted, online meeting place where hundreds of neo-Nazi, anti-government, white supremacist groups and tens of thousands of individuals spew hate with aplomb. The site’s writers lambaste Jews and are unabashed in praise of Hitler.
They exhort their readers and followers to arm themselves to the teeth against the imagined assault by the federal government on white people’s rights. It was virtually a given that the murders would fire the horde of racists up and ignite a frenzy of debate, speculation, denial and even veiled acquiescence to the murders.
The two cop killers were the sort of nut jobs who would have been perfectly comfortable with the crowd on Stormfront. The month before the murderous attacks on the police by the two neo-Nazis, the Southern Poverty Law, which tracks hate groups, warned that Stormfront and other online racist hate forums serve as a virtual Murder Inc. More than 100 persons in the last five years have been slain by those who post on its site. It’s not known whether the killers were one of those posters or readers, since most post anonymously.
But that is less important than how they can make threats, bluster and commit crimes to indulge their crazed fantasies and wage their war against their phantom minority group and federal government enemies. The neo-Nazis and their sympathizers who rant, rail and spew hate in speeches, on websites, in videos and in their fringe, kooky publications are simply exercising their First Amendment right; a right that can’t be abridged no matter how scary they sound.
Bowers spewed the same hysterical rants — “Jews are the children of Satan” and so on — about the government being taken over by a cabal of moneyed Jews and that it was time to do something about it. He had a ready-made platform for his hate on yet another website, GAB, that has popped up in the past decade to provide a safe and anonymous haven for white nationalists, the alt right, and other assorted kooks and cranks to happily spout their shop-worn Jewish conspiracies theories.
Gab issued a phony statement condemning Bowers’ attack. That won’t stop the sick and demented people like Bowers. They will find other outlets to make shrill threats against Jews. The hate climate they swim in assures that, and that, like Bowers, is no aberration.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Make a Democratic Blue Wave More than Talk” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.