Accused Pittsburgh synagogue killer Robert Bowers is a raving anti-Semitic white nationalist who also despises President Trump. This might sound confusing to people who bought into the tiresome “Trump is Hitler” media narrative, but it makes perfect sense.
Bowers faces 29 criminal charges, including 11 for homicide, after a shooting rampage at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on Saturday. There is no mystery as to his motive; he left a long record of neo-Nazi-inspired anti-Semitic ranting on social media, and shouted “all Jews must die” when he opened fire.
Naturally some critics rushed to blame President Trump for “inspiring” the attack. The left has long charged that Trump is a Nazi sympathizer spouting hateful rhetoric and his supporters are fascist enablers. And critics say that those Trump voters who support his economic or foreign policies are simply too stupid to know they are bigots.
But actual Nazis disagree. Bowers was explicit in his dislike of the president, saying he did not vote for him and had never “owned, worn or even touched a (Make America Great Again) hat.” Challenging the media narrative that President Trump praised Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017, Bowers agreed with another extremist that the president had “betrayed” right wing radical protesters by “comparing them with a violent mob.”
When Trump said he was a “nationalist” at a Texas rally last week the left exploded with the usual Hitler-this and dog whistle-that criticisms. Bowers made clear that from the extremist point of view the president is not a nationalist but a “globalist” controlled by a Jewish conspiracy.
Trump isn’t anti-Semitic, and it’s wrong to say so
Linking Trump to anti-Semitism is factually incorrect and morally wrong. You never heard it before he ran for office. He has a history of giving generously to Jewish charities, including the Anti-Defamation League, and he received the Jewish National Fund’s “Tree of Life” award.
This is a president whose high-profile daughter Ivanka is an observant modern orthodox Jew, and whose Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner is a trusted White House envoy and personal adviser. President Trump also has longstanding ties to Israel’s conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and, unlike three of his Oval Office predecessors, made good on a pledge to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
And while Trump did not garner support from the broad Jewish community in the 2016 election, he was overwhelmingly popular among more the observant Orthodox segment, whom one community activist compared to working class “Rust Belt voters.”
Critics resort to the tired “dog whistle” trope to lump President Trump in with white nationalists because they lack actual evidence. But real extremists don’t hide their biases. You don’t need to use a secret decoder ring to understand the blatantly anti-Semitic message when Louis Farrakhan says Jews are “termites” and talks about “Satanic Jews who have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.” White supremacists praised Farrakhan for being “on point” with this message, showing the noxious nexus at which these conflicting racist ideologies agree.
Synagogue shooting shows what evil looks like
Political theorist Hannah Arendt noted in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that extremist propaganda “is invariably as frank as it is mendacious” and that “would-be totalitarian regimes usually start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones.” They believe in “the propaganda value of evil deeds,” as the tragedy in Pittsburgh and any other such acts of terrorism illustrate.
Mainstream critics who convert normal policy disagreements into mud-slinging contests over extremism, suggest apocalyptic consequences from pursuing any course of action they happen to disagree with, or hear hidden menacing messages in routine rhetoric, are making rational discourse in America impossible.
The synagogue shooting shows what real evil looks like. It is not hidden, it is not a subterfuge, it can be found openly expressed in chat rooms and online publications that cater to that wretched mob’s mentality.
Mainstream Americans — whether leaning left, right or in the center can and should denounce these radical views. But to the extent our political debate increasingly mimics the extremist tone of the fanatic fringes we are the worse for it.
James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and author of “Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past,” has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins