On Saturday, Robert Bowers murdered 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in the most heinous anti-Semitic attack our country has witnessed. And today, despite the definitive “no thanks” from the Pittsburgh mayor, a local nonprofit with more than 35,000 signatures, and Trump’s own congressional officials––Trump traveled to Pittsburgh to offer condolences for a tragedy that his own rhetoric enabled.
Authorities have identified the terrorist as Robert Bowers, a man who admitted his hatred for Jews due to their support for immigrants and their stance against the Muslim Ban. Hatred that Trump has only fueled. And if we can’t rely on our leaders to truly condemn bigotry––if, in the face of tragedy, they continue to sew the seeds of division––then we, New Yorkers, must be the voice of unity and stand with our Pittsburgh neighbors.
At this point, it’s painfully clear that Trump’s administration has provided a platform for white supremacist groups. Beyond that, the language Trump uses to voice his anti-immigration views has motivated and encouraged these supremacist groups to voice and act on their hate and violent tendencies. When Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, shouting anti-Semitic chants, our President called them “very fine people.” It is a leader’s duty to unify the people, uplift the nation, and stand for justice; but in openly supporting white nationalism, Trump has ceded that responsibility.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 953 active hate groups in the US, with an increase of 22% of Neo-Nazi groups just in 2017.
The same study shows that “within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi groups saw the greatest growth – soaring by 22 percent. Anti-Muslim groups rose for a third straight year.” These groups are openly espousing hate and division, and it’s more important than ever that our leaders publicly and forcefully denounce their missions. But again, if we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s that this responsibility has fallen to the people.
Further, these anti-Semitic attacks on Jews are one horrific part of a sustained racial and ethnic attack on minority and immigrant groups that the current administration refuses to disown. The Kentucky shooter who killed two black grocery store customers a few days preceding the Pittsburgh attack had tried to attack a predominantly black church, and told a bystander “whites don’t shoot whites.” This past year, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) released a report documenting a 45% increase in hate violence aimed at Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities, in which 20% of the perpetrators referenced President Trump during the crime.
The inability of our leaders to powerfully condemn hate has validated discrimination against Jews, people of color, immigrants, refugees and members of other faith communities. As Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh said in their letter to the President, Trump’s rhetoric targeting these communities is directly linked to the events of this weekend, rendering any attempt to comfort the Pittsburgh community meaningless.
More than ever, we need to stand together and support one another in these difficult times against the racism and bigotry spreading in our country. This unfathomable crime has torn families apart––but, in response, it has also brought the entire U.S. community to come together unconditionally in solidarity, and to stand guard against groups who would try to divide us.
The time to rise above and defy hatred is now. We do not have a leader to condemn these acts and punish them accordingly, or one that is for the people, or culturally responsive. We need to be shields for one another and continue to uphold acceptance and dignity for all while fighting the messages of hate and violence.
Dr. Debbie Almontaser is the author of upcoming book, Leading While Muslim.