Why Trump Bears Responsibility for Saturday’s Synagogue Massacre

Why Trump Bears Responsibility for Saturday’s Synagogue Massacre October 30, 2018

On Saturday, an anti-semitic gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers in a Synagogue in Pittsburg. Why now, you ask? Because of the the migrant caravan, that’s why. It wouldn’t seem like there would be a connection, would it? The connection is a web of right-wing conspiracy theories fanned by Donald Trump.

Donald Trump can’t hate Jews, the argument goes. His daughter and son-in-law are Jews. The problem is that we’ve got a broken understanding of what racism and anti-semitism look like.

There are many people in the U.S. who claim that they are not racist against black people on the basis of not “hating” black people. Many of these same people simultaneously believe that black people are more criminal, or more lazy, or more promiscuous than other racial groups. This is racism. 

In Nazi Germany, Aryans did not wake up one day and decide to hate Jews. Instead they heard, over and over, that Jews were responsible for Germany’s loss in WWI, that Jews were wealthy bankers who controlled finance, that Jews constituted a threat to Germany and the German way of life.

When we define racism or anti-semitism as “hating” people, we strip these things of crucial context. Certainly, people can hate a group for no reason at all, but more often people hate a group because they have been fed a bundle of malicious lies about that group. More often, people hate a group because they falsely believe that that group is a threat to them and their way of life. These lies and ideas and biases get mixed together and overlap and feed on each other—biases enable people to believe lies, which in turn feed their biases—which is part of the reason bigotry is so hard to eradicate.

What does this have to do with Saturday’s shooting? Plenty. Before he went to the synagogue, the perpetrator posted this on social media:

“I can’t sit by an watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

The perpetrator believed a pack of lies spread on the far Right: that immigrants are dangerous and criminal; that they bring drugs and violence; that they are lazy and mooch off the system; that white Americans are targets of violence by undocumented immigrants; that a race war is inevitable; that liberals are bringing in immigrants to turn them into a supply of liberal voters; and that George Soros is funding migrant caravans to bring ever larger numbers of dangerous, often criminal migrants to the U.S.

George Soros, who is Jewish.

“I can’t sit by an watch my people get slaughtered.”

By a race war. By George Soros. By Jews.

There’s another piece to this too. Did you know that “globalist” is a longtime anti-semitic slur? While some people may not know that, but Trump’s supporters certainly seem to. At a rally on Friday night—the evening before Saturday’s shooting—Trump derided “globalists” for “cheating” our workers. With no other prompting, is audience immediately began yelling “George Soros”! When someone in the crowd yelled “lock him up!” Trump paused, pointed, and repeated “lock him up”—chuckling as he did so.

Correspondent Joy Ann Ried played the segment described above on MSNBC before posing this question:

“Is it possible that it is incidental that Donald Trump doesn’t know the derivation of that term … that he just doesn’t understand it when he says globalists it means something to anti-Semitic people?”

On some level, it does not matter whether Trump means “globalist” to be anti-semitic, or whether he knows what the word means on the far Right. What matters is that the far Right hears the term as anti-semitic (and they do); that Trump, as president, has a responsibility to learn and observe the connotations of his words and to choose his rhetoric accordingly; and that he continues to use the term nonetheless.

Trump says that “globalists” are “cheating” our workers. Globalists are anti-American. Globalists are not loyal to their country. Globalists are undermining the country’s economy, threatening the American way of life. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Now, recall that when Trump says “globalists,” the far Right hears “Jews.” When Trump said “globalists,” Saturday’s shooter heard “Jews.”

There’s no way Trump does not know the connotations of the term “globalist,” or what the term means on the far Right. At the very least, there’s no way his advisors don’t know this. Trump bears responsibility for his choice of language; for his laughter; for his willingness to engage in conspiracy theories, including those with anti-semitic undertones. Having a Jewish daughter and son-in-law does not change that.

On Saturday, eleven people paid a permanent price for Trump’s irresponsibility.

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