There is no question that had Donald Trump and his Fox News enablers not embarked on a cynical attempt to gin up public hysteria about that pathetic group of asylum-seeking migrants over a thousand miles away, eleven members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., would still be alive today.
Republicans can scream and howl all they want about that fact. It is irrefutable.
The proof is in the shooter’s shared postings on social media that unequivocally show the “caravan” lie was not only a motivating factor, but the motivating factor that prompted the actual killings.
Prior to committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “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.”
As described in this article by Adam Serwer for The Atlantic, Trump and Fox News did their utmost during the month of October to turn this non-event into a “national emergency” for the sole purpose of animating Trump’s racist base of electoral support in the upcoming midterm elections. Fox News hyped its viewers anxieties about the “caravan” on a near-hourly basis. Trump claimed that “Middle Easterners” had infiltrated this ragtag group of migrants, while Vice President Mike Pence helpfully poured more gasoline on the fire, claiming that “outside groups” had funded the caravan.
This was all that many “fringe” right wing groups– the same kind of groups who Robert Bowers regularly paid attention to on his white-supremacist friendly Gab social media platform—needed to hear.
In the right-wing fever swamps, where the president’s every word is worshipped, commenters began amplifying Trump’s exhortations with new details. Representative Matt Gaetz wondered if George Soros—the wealthy Jewish philanthropist whom Trump and several members of the U.S. Senate blamed for the protests against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and who was recently targeted with a bomb—was behind the migrant caravan.
This was immediately amplified by Fox News where right-wing commentator Matt Schlapp directly made the connection between Jewish financier George Soros and the caravan, and the NRA, whose NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton again raised the spectre of George Soros as the hidden hand behind the migrants.
In reality the “caravan” was—and is—nothing more than a grossly, hysterically hyped racist hoax. Groups of people from Central America regularly and systematically band together in such groups for protection, in their likely-futile efforts to seek asylum in the U.S. There was never any evidence that “terrorists” made up any element of this group. They were and are simply poor people trying desperately to find a better life.
But once this anti-Semitic poison had seeped into his susceptible mind, there was no question anymore for Mr. Bowers. The Jews were behind the “caravan.” They were polluting the blood of this country. And they needed to be punished.
[W]ith respect to the caravan, the shooter merely followed the logic of the president and his allies: He was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent an “invasion” of Latinos planned by perfidious Jews, a treasonous attempt to seek “the destruction of American society and culture.”
Had Trump (and most of the Republican Party) not chosen to pursue this campaign of deceitful race-baiting, Bowers would never have loaded his AR-15 on Saturday. That fantastic panorama of outright lies—coupled with the insinuation that Jews were responsible, provided the fuel and spark that culminated in the worst massacre of Jewish worshippers in American history. As Serwer says, there is no “getting around” that fact.
The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread, and that his followers chose to amplify.
Serwer has some parting words for Trump, Pence, Fox News, and all of the other Republicans who share the responsibility for enabling this horrific tragedy: spare us your thoughts and prayers.
Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of antisemitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten.
After November 6th, Americans will likely never hear about this “caravan” again. But for the eleven souls whose lives were taken from them for the sake of a despicable, racist hoax, it will be too late.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.