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A scary time in America

Less than 24 hours after authorities arrested a man accused of terrorizing the nation with mail bombs, another man, shouting anti-Semitic slurs and armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns, opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11 people and injuring six.  The suspect, Robert D. Bowers, 46, was captured at the synagogue.

President Donald Trump called the attack “pure evil” and said “our nation and the world are shocked and stunned by the grief.” Then he headed to Illinois for a campaign rally 10 days before the midterm elections. (“I don’t want to change our life for somebody that is sick and evil.”).

The trail of anti-Semitism and other hate speech on the suspect’s social-media accounts was a familiar marker of domestic terror, wrote Jay Parini. “Racism gathers into its dark embrace haters of every kind. Their victims can be of any minority group — Jew, Muslim, Latino, black, gay.” For a country “awash in guns, hate erupting into murderous violence is a chronic condition.”  And while the President is no anti-Semite, his “rhetoric has fueled and empowered racists of every stripe…Americans: wake up, please! Remember why we exist at all: we were founded by immigrants fleeing persecution abroad…”

Writing in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin warned of the mainstreaming of right-wing, “blood and soil” nationalism in the United States and Europe. The shooter may be responsible for this act of mass murder, she wrote, but politicians who “celebrate ‘nationalism,’ or declare the United States is a ‘Christian nation’… are consciously or unconsciously channeling and amplifying anti-Semitism.”

The slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue came three days after a white man in Kentucky shot dead a black man and a black woman at a Kroger’s supermarket after attempting to enter a Baptist church during services (the church doors had been locked).

And it followed days of anxiety and furious debate over who might have been responsible for sending package bombs to a range of people –mainly prominent Democrats.

On Friday the apparent answer came. Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old Florida man with a long criminal history, was arrested in Plantation, Florida, and his van, plastered with right-wing slogans and pro-Trump stickers, was hauled away.

President Donald Trump had been complaining on Twitter earlier in the day that “this ‘Bomb’ stuff” was slowing down Republican momentum in the midterms. He instantly pivoted to condemning “these terrorizing acts” before cameras at the White House, praising the speedy work of law enforcement.

That was teleprompter Trump talking, suggested Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, and it didn’t last long: “after reading some perfunctory remarks about unity, he played the victim, saying ‘Who gets attacked more than me?'”–before returning to campaign talking points, like his plans to halt the migrant caravan, moving through Mexico, when it reaches the US border.

Wrong threat, wrote Julian Zelizer.  “The caravan Americans should be worried about is already here. It is the white van that the alleged, attempted mail bomber Cesar Sayoc was driving.”  The President errs in focusing on “allegedly dangerous people who are part of the movement of immigrants seeking safety within our borders,” when “a real concern for the country should be the potential for violent domestic political extremism to flare among people who live here and who perceive themselves to have an ally in the White House.”

Indeed, despite a brief, telepromptered condemnation Wednesday, President Trump had downplayed the steady stream of pipe-bomb packages that had sown terror from New York to southern Florida, while some of his supporters pushed the idea that the bombs were a “false flag” sent by liberals to discredit the right.

“On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing,” wrote Peter Bergen. “That is simply false … there is, in fact, a long history of political violence emanating from the far right.”

The suspect’s motivation is yet to be spelled out, but there was no denying what the targets had in common, wrote John Avlon. “They’ve all been targeted by President Donald Trump and made into bogeymen for the far-right, often on Fox News by opinion anchors like Sean Hannity” with astonishing frequency. Since he became President, “Trump has attacked CNN 63 times on Twitter … tweeted attacks on (Hillary) Clinton 109 times … mentioned (Rep. Maxine Waters) 73 times in speeches, press statements and tweets since March of this year,” including to call her a “low IQ individual.”

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat urged “reasonable elements within the GOP (to) take a second look at the real-life consequences of the hate speech that has overtaken their party. On this issue, breaking with Trump would truly be a civic duty, and one that might save American lives and democracy in the future.”

Hold on, wrote David French in the conservative National Review, before the arrest of Sayoc: “it’s worth repeating that we don’t have any evidence at all that Trump’s words matter to the bomber. Yet for some, regardless of the evidence (that) emerges in the next several days, Trump’s responsibility will remain an unfalsifiable belief.” It will take “moral courage to follow that evidence wherever it takes us — even to the darkest places in our own political movements.”

And former FBI agent Josh Campbell cautioned that “this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is much larger than partisan politics. This is a serious life-and-death matter of public safety.”

By Pat Wiedenkeller

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