Murder At The Tree Of Life

Murder At The Tree Of Life October 28, 2018

A few thoughts around the awful shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.

• When a thing is obvious, it usually doesn’t need to be said. But when a thing is important, it should be said even if it is obvious. So: anti-Semitism sucks. If you’ve got a heart full of racial or ethnic hate, get help, something has gone wrong in your brain; in the meantime, you are not welcome anywhere where I am.

A few years ago, I was of the opinion that anti-Semitism was something we’d gotten past in this country. Sadly, I was wrong.

• A GoFundMe has been set up for the congregation:

• (It also shouldn’t need to be said, but since the point is likely to arise I shall: shame be upon those who try to deflect criticism of the government of Israel for its human rights violations by crying “Anti-Semitism!”. Or to those who try to justify anti-Semitism by citing the sins of the state of Israel.)

• The shooter (may his name be eaten) had 20 minutes to slaughter people and entrench himself before cops got there. The police cannot protect you when sudden and immediate serious violence happens. They are not omnipresent. As we take steps to improve security we have to accept that “when seconds count, the police are minutes away.”

Of course the best solution is to fix our society, our criminal justice system, and our mental heath care systems so that we don’t have violent people walking around unsupervised. But until that utopian day, we have to make realistic plans for dealing with violence, including serious mass violence, when it arises; and “wait for the police” is not a realistic plan.

• Usually, people who commit serious violence have a history of previous lesser violence or of obvious serious mental illness. The recent Kroger shooter had a history of violence and mental health issues. The recent mail bomber had previously threatened to bomb Florida Power and Light and had a history of criminal and bizarre behavior. We could and should, with better policy, be keeping such people under supervision while getting them the help they need to reform and heal and do better.

But so far, this shooter seems to be an exception to that pattern. He was obviously full of hate and bad ideas, but had no arrests or convictions. He had not previously crossed the line from speech to behavior, at least from the information currently available.

It may be that those committing ideological violence are less likely to be prior offenders.

•  Both the frequency of terrorist attacks and their ideological motivations have changed over the years.

Data from a 2017 report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. Fair use.

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryand, in comparison with the decade 2000-2009, from 2010 to 2016 there was a sharp increase in the percentage of attacks from right-wing and religious (including Christian, Jewish, and Islamic) extremists and a decline in attacks from leftist and environmental extremists.

That does not mean that your conservative cousin or your Trump-voting neighbor is responsible for these acts, any more than that you Democratic Socialist cousin was responsible for the higher proportion of leftist attacks in the 1970s, or your Green neighbor responsible for “ecoterrorism” in the 2000s.

Failing to make that distinction — “You voted for the Republican candidate for county council! That’s the same as supporting Trump! That makes you a Nazi! You’re responsible for this mass murder!” — is not helpful. (I exaggerate only slightly the tone of some recent social media posts I have seen.)

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