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USA: ’Utter Shock and Disbelief’: Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Shakes Close-knit Jewish Community

Monday 29 October 2018, by siawi3


’Utter Shock and Disbelief’: Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Shakes Close-knit Jewish Community

About 40 percent of Squirrel Hill’s 15,000 residents are Jewish. On Saturday, they found themselves on lockdown, wondering which of their friends or relatives were alive

Dina Kraft

Oct 28, 2018 1:33 AM

Photo: Members of the Squirrel Hill community in Pittsburgh at a vigil in remembrance of those who killed in a shooting at a local synagogue on October 27, 2018. Dustin Franz / AFP

’Deadliest attack on Jewish community in U.S. history’: Jewish leaders lament Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
Jewish group that enraged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter: ’Lots of anti-Semites out there’
U.S. Jews’ despair over Pittsburgh atrocity is compounded by Trump’s complicity and Netanyahu’s hypocrisy

In the immediate hours after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday, residents were on lockdown in their homes, wondering which of their friends or relatives were dead or alive.

Squirrel Hill’s residents describe it as a beloved neighborhood, considered a peaceful place – before an attack on one of the area’s four synagogues marked it as the site of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

Squirrel Hill is a quiet neighborhood, full of walkable streets lined with large old oak and elm trees, a mix of Tudor homes, rambling brick houses and apartment buildings. Some 40 percent of its residents are Jewish. It is a rare phenomenon: an urban American neighborhood that has maintained the Jewish heart of its city for over a century.

During Shabbat services on Saturday morning, a gunman entered the synagogue, purportedly shouted, “All Jews must die.” He opened fire, killing 11 members of the congregation.

>> 11 killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; gunman yelled ’All Jews must die’ ■ Rabbi of neighboring PIttsburgh synagogue recounts trauma ■ Group that enraged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter says work more critical than ever ■ U.S. Jews’ despair over Pittsburgh atrocity is compounded by Trump’s complicity and Netanyahu’s hypocrisy | Analysis

“Here it is utter shock and disbelief. We are only two blocks away and all morning we’ve been hearing police cars and helicopters,” said Sara Stock Mayo, a Squirrel Hill resident familiar with people who attend the Tree of Life synagogue.

A community begins to react: ‘We have to become our own leaders’

“Within a few hours span we have gone from emotionally devastated to total shock. We are living in challenging times. But the outpouring from Muslim and Christian friends, who have reached out to say ’We are here for you,’ has been tremendous,” says Stock Mayo, a fourth-generation Squirrel Hill resident who moved back with her husband from New York to raise their children here.

She says that as the aftermath of this massacre unfolds, the Jewish community will take comfort in the interfaith and other support they are receiving from around the city. “We have to keep remembering we do live in a special space, and recognize that there are people who really have our backs and want to show us their support and love.”

Mayo says she was disturbed by President Donald Trump’s reaction to the attack. His words, suggesting that if the synagogue had hired armed guards the massacre would not have occurred, failed to comfort her and her teenage children, she said.

“He’s not saying the right things and I knew he wouldn’t. I know who he is and I think for my right-wing friends who thought Trump was good for Israel, this will maybe be an interesting wake-up call for them,” she says.

“Our leadership doesn’t really care about us right now. So we have to find a way to make things happen. We have to become the leaders,” she added.

A Mr. Rogers kind of neighborhood

It doesn’t just feel like a “Mr. Rogers kind of neighborhood” – it was Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Fred Rogers, the iconic children’s television host lived here, and the church he attended was located across the street from the Jewish Community Center.

“It’s a really hamish place,” says Mayo, using the Yiddish word for friendly or homey. Residents describe a cooperation and connection between leaders and community members across the spectrum of Jewish identities – Lubavitch Hasidic, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – that is unique in American-Jewish life.

Recently, it has also become home to a growing Asian population with Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants opening up next to longtime pizza places and ice cream parlors. Over the last few years, the JCC has been hosting a parade for Chinese New Year.

In Squirrel Hill, homes were built close together and whole families can usually be seen walking together to the JCC or to one of the four synagogues located within a four-block radius. Everyone seems to know everyone else, neighbors stopping to chat on wide sidewalks.

There’s a movie theater that dates back to 1931 and independently owned businesses, including a pizza place and shoe store, that have been around for about 50 years.

Nate Scher, 80, grew up here and never left. “I love walking down the street and saying hi to 18 people within a block and still shopping at stores that have been there since I was kid,” he said.

He has been a member of The Tree of Life synagogue for the past 40 years. As a professional videographer, he says he filmed dozens of weddings and bnai mitzvot there over the decades.

“I just love the neighborliness of it, feeling a community environment but still being in a city,” says Beth Grill, 54, a policy analyst who moved to Squirrel Hill from Detroit with her husband to raise their three children. “It’s a very easy place to live. Everyone knows everyone. It feels like a big small town.”

Grill’s children went to a Jewish day school in the neighborhood. There are also Orthodox schools, yeshivas and even an arts school.



October 29, 2018 / 10:10 AM / Updated 33 minutes ago

As Pittsburgh synagogue reels from massacre, suspect due in court
Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue was due to make his first court appearance on Monday as more details of the attack emerged and the congregation struggled to come to terms with the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community.

“I think people are in various stages of trauma, mourning, disbelief, shock all rolled into one,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges against Bowers, who was wounded in a gun battle with police, can be punishable by the death penalty. Bowers was discharged from Allegheny General Hospital on Monday morning a few hours before his scheduled court appearance.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

According to a document filed at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, three handguns and an AR-15 rifle were recovered at the scene.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers guard the Tree of Life synagogue following shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer

The complaint quoted Bowers as saying to one law enforcement officer, in substance, “they’re committing genocide to my people.”

“I just want to kill Jews.”

A police report on the shooting rampage described an exchange of fire outside the synagogue between police officers and Bowers, who retreated inside. Police entered the building and Bowers was shot multiple times and critically wounded. A police officer was also shot a number of times.

Jeffrey Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital and a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue, told ABC on Monday he went to the hospital because he wanted to see the man accused of the shootings.

“He’s taken into my hospital and he’s shouting, ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ and the first three people who are taking care of him were Jewish,” Cohen said.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.


A GoFundMe campaign has raised $589,000 for victims. The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh by Monday had raised nearly $120,000 for victims.
FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

Video: At least 11 killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the website where the suspected gunman posted anti-Semitic views, said on Monday it has provided “plenty of evidence” to the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Gab went offline after GoDaddy Inc (GDDY.N) asked it to move the domain to another registrar while PayPal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O) and Stripe Inc blocked the website from using their payment services.

Gab said it is working around the clock to get back online but will be inaccessible for a period of time.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

The United States is just over a week away from midterm elections that will decide the balance of power in Congress.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman and Nick Zieminski; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott



Far-Right Social Network Gab Suspends Operation Following Backlash Over Hosting Synagogue Shooter

October 28, 2018 10:15PM PT

By Janko Roettgers, the Twitter-like service used by members of the fringe right, suspended operations Sunday night after both its hosting provider and domain name host cancelled their business relationships with the company.

The backlash against Gab comes after news broke that the service was frequented by Robert Bowers, who allegedly shot and killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning. Bowers had an active account on Gab, which he used to post anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, with some posts claiming that the migrant caravan across Mexico was the work of a Jewish conspiracy.

Gab took down Bowers’ account following the shooting, but the company has spent much of the weekend defending posts like those made by Bowers as free speech. As a result, Gab was dropped by cloud hosting provider Joyent as well as payment processing providers PayPal and Stripe.

When domain name provider GoDaddy gave the company 24 hours to move its service elsewhere, Gab pulled the plug, telling followers on Twitter that it would be inaccessible for “a period of time.”

Gab’s attempts to restore its service seem to be complicated by the fact that the company doesn’t own its domain name outright, but instead is under a payment plan — something that’s not uncommon for high-value domain names, including any domains consisting of just three letters.

Gab isn’t the only company under scrutiny over not banning extremist views. Last week, news broke that the Florida man suspected of mailing over a dozen pipe bombs to senior Democrats had previously threatened critics of President Trump on Twitter.

Twitter responded to this by saying that it had erred to leave the tweets in question available on its service. “We want Twitter to be a place where people feel safe, and we know we have a lot of work to do,” the company said in a tweet.



The Conspiratorial Hate We See Online Is Increasingly Appearing In Real Life

Why toxic online behavior is spilling into the streets.

Charlie Warzel
BuzzFeed News Reporter

Posted on October 27, 2018, at 7:43 p.m. ET

This week, reporters dredged up the online pasts of two monsters: a Florida man who was arrested for sending pipe bombs to at least a dozen of President Trump’s critics, and a neo-Nazi sympathizer who opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 worshipers on Saturday morning. In both instances, their digital footprints offered all the expected clues — the internet profile of a modern extremist, teeming with all-caps memes; hundreds of breathless, almost frantic tweets, likes, and shares of violent fantasies; and hateful ideologies repeated over and over again, sometimes to an audience of seemingly no one.

Scrolling through these internet histories, what’s remarkable isn’t the roiling hatred — tragically, that’s become almost commonplace online. But what’s truly alarming is how familiar the digital trail left behind by these dark extremists feels. The violent errata left by these domestic terrorists aren’t inaccessible, hundred-page, hand-scrawled manifestos or garages filled with red string and corkboards; instead, they’re Facebook posts and tweets and enthusiastic online trolling, the likes of which many of us come in contact with on a daily basis. And it’s that familiarity — just one turn of the screw more extreme than a normal shitpost — that makes a tour of their digital pasts so upsetting.


Connecting the online footprints to tragedies in the physical world also reveals an undeniable truth: that the dichotomy between an online world and “real life” is (and has always been) a false one. The hatred, trolling, harassment, and conspiracy theorizing of the internet’s underbelly cannot be dismissed as empty, nihilistic performance. It may be a game, but it’s a game with consequences. And it’s spilling into the physical world with greater, more alarming frequency.

Arguably, nothing better demonstrates the permeability of the online/IRL membrane better than the mail bombing suspect’s white van, which was discovered Friday afternoon after the suspect’s arrest. The van’s windows and rear doors were covered in pro-Trump stickers and memes from online message boards — a sort of twisted paint job brought to you by 4chan. Some depicted Donald Trump riding triumphantly on a tank, while others depicted media figures and Democratic politicians with targets over their faces. Had the images been posted to a Twitter feed instead of onto a car window, they would have been the hallmark of an individual said to be “extremely online.”

The van is, according to Kate Starbird, a researcher studying online conspiracies and misinformation at the University of Washington, an interesting metaphor “showing memetic warfare transcending the digital and moving into the physical world.”

“It’s powerful in a way that shows he was clearly radicalized in an online world,” Starbird told BuzzFeed News. “It’s almost copied and pasted from the internet and put into the physical world.” For Starbird, it’s also anecdotal evidence of the effect of radicalizing propaganda and online communities. “It’s not just receiving messages, it’s also actions and participations. You’re part of something in this online world and I think you’re seeing more individuals internalizing that and using it to motivate action in the physical world.”

Trolling that’s long been dismissed as empty ravings — the harassing tweet that wasn’t taken down, the anti-Semitic cartoon memes floating around online communities like, the pizza parlor sex ring YouTube videos — are proving to be veritable red flags. And the actions of the individuals behind them are showing up in the real world.

In 2016, after reading about the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina fired three shots in a Washington, DC, pizza parlor. Believers of the 4chan QAnon conspiracy — convinced the president is secretly trying to save the world from a global pedophilia ring — have begun showing up at Trump rallies clad in “Q” T-shirts. In 2017, Lane Davis, a far-right, pro-Trump blogger apparently convinced his parents were “leftist pedophiles,” stabbed his father. In April, a young man who’d pledged allegiance on Facebook to the “Incel Rebellion”— a name for an online community dedicated to involuntary celibacy and misogyny — killed 10 people by driving a van down a busy street in Toronto. Members of the Proud Boys, a community of “western chauvinists” largely formed online, were arrested in October for assaulting bystanders on a New York City sidewalk. Similarly, the hundreds of white Americans chanting “you will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017 saw the event as a chance to break down the walls between their online extremism and real-world activism. During the deadly protest, Daily Stormer features editor Robert Ray described the rally to Vice News as white nationalists “stepping off the internet in a big way.”

While extremists “stepping off the internet” is a symptom of an online ecosystem with an uncanny ability to quickly radicalize vulnerable participants, the phenomenon is not fully platform-dependent. Online communities have helped turn information warfare into a tribal game, and many are finding they can play the game IRL, too.

“I almost feel like QAnon has the most in common with something like Pokémon Go,” my colleague Ryan Broderick told me this summer, describing how the message board conspiracy had bled into the physical world. “It’s like an augmented reality game, and people are gonna play it regardless of where they’re going, you know, regardless of how it works. They’re going to keep doing it because I think at the end of the day, it’s fun for people.”

It’s also empowering. If memetic and information warfare are a game, that means you can win. And winning can translate into something that feels like real power. The claim that 4chan “memed a president into existence” isn’t just a catchphrase; it’s a line on a résumé.

And while there’s a meaningful difference between the Pizzagate conspiracy and the anti-Semitic rage of the alleged Pittsburgh gunman, the reasons they transcend the internet are familiar: community and empowerment. It comes as little surprise then that the final social media post from the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter declared that he was taking his online hatred into the physical world. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote just hours before his massacre.

Of course, few of these posts are such explicit calls to action — in fact, much of the online footprint of the week’s extremists are mundane, lazy examples of bigotry, or even anodyne bits of social media fodder. It’s only under a microscope with hindsight that the pattern of radicalization appears so clearly. “The red pill doesn’t happen all at once,” Starbird said of the trivial nature of so many trolls’ online histories. “You go down the rabbit hole; you don’t start at the bottom. But it can lead to this corrupted way of making meaning of the world.”

It’s likely that those who came in contact with an errant post from one of the two suspects were appalled or disturbed for a moment but quickly moved on. It’s outlying behavior, yes, but the medium is eerily recognizable. Rifling through their old posts now, there’s an implicit question: Would you have alerted someone if you read these rantings? On an online world that’s normalized ironic racism and shock trolling, it’s impossible to tell exactly who is a threat and who is just trolling. Perhaps the distinction is now irrelevant. Perhaps it always has been.

Charlie Warzel is a Senior Technology Writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Missoula, Montana