Pittsburgh shooting was anything but 'unimaginable'

Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation talks about the community gathering to show support for those impacted by the shooting in Pittsburgh and in defiance of anti-Semitism. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

(Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Our view: Neither anti-Semitism nor mass shootings should shock Americans who are paying attention

The list of victims from the Tree of Life Congregation reads like the invitation list to a bris, which was exactly what was going on when a deranged gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and several handguns stormed into the synagogue, shouted “All Jews must die” and opened fire killing at least 11. They were bubbes and zaydes including a couple, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, ages 84 and 86, and a 97-year-old grandmother, Rose Mallinger. The youngest was 54. It was horrific (one of the worst crime scenes Pittsburgh’s public safety director said he had ever witnessed). It was reportedly the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. And it coincided with a most precious and innocent moments, the start of a newborn’s journey in the Jewish faith.

But there’s one thing that attack in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s equivalent of Pikesville — that is, it’s longtime center of the Jewish faith — was not. It was not ‘unimaginable.”


That was the utterly inapt word President Donald Trump chose to describe the attack in his remarks hours after the shooting. Speaking to a Future Farmers of America gathering in Indiana, the president said this: "This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil, hard to believe and is frankly something that is unimaginable.” Wicked, yes. Mass murder, certainly. But difficult to believe? Only someone who has ignored a slew of assault-rifle-magnified mass shootings — not to mention the attempted mass-mailed bombings of just days earlier — and the rise of white supremacy and anti-Semitism both within the United States and abroad could possibly reach that conclusion.

Mourners participate in a vigil on Saturday evening in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting earlier in the day at the Tree of Life Synagogue. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Justin Merriman

If only this had been unimaginable. If only this country was not witnessing a rise in hate crimes. And, frankly, if only President Trump and his supporters were capable of recognizing their own contributions to this pitiful state of affairs.


Rest assured, Trump defenders, America understands that the president didn’t pull the trigger. But it appears the man who did was an anti-Semite who was convinced that Jews have been financing the caravan of refugees traveling north through Mexico toward the U.S. border. Now, who has been stirring up the public to perceive these migrants as a threat, with unnamed Middle Eastern terrorists somehow mixed into the crowd? And how might anyone come to believe that George Soros, Michael Bloomberg or Tom Steyer, all billionaires and all Jewish, might be involved in such a conspiracy to aid them? Maybe because pointing a finger at one, two or all three of them in a secret conspiracy of some sort to support “open borders” or “gun control” or some other left-leaning cause has become a common talking point in the Fox News-MAGA crowd.

Shocked by anti-Semitism? Did we not just witness neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville last year? Readers may recall President Trump’s response to the sight of protesters chanting “Jews will not replace us” was to observe that there were “some very fine people” among them. (That’s not to suggest the left doesn’t have its anti-Semites, by the way; there’s always Louis Farrakhan. But then, the Nation of Islam leader isn’t U.S. president.)

As encouraging as it has been over the weekend to see candlelight vigils and other acts of solidarity like the Steel City’s “Stronger Than Hate” graphic that has become so widespread so quickly, we have little confidence that the wave of hatred and bigotry against people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions or sexual orientation that is consuming this country can be turned back so easily. And we certainly do not believe the whole matter can be resolved by stationing armed guards in every house of worship or by reinstating the death penalty (one presumes in states that don’t currently have it), as Mr. Trump has prescribed.

What’s needed most is for this behavior to be universally condemned, no if’s and’s or but’s. No more coddling white supremacists. No more hawking George Soros is the boogeyman. No more talk of secret globalist conspiracies that are so often used as code for the “Jewish bankers” of a couple of generations ago. No more attacking the undocumented seeking to flee crime and poverty as gang members or rapists. No more bile. No more code words. No more fear-mongering. Then, maybe, just maybe, this kind of savagery truly will be unimaginable.