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On Saturday, 27th of October, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 people. The suspect has been named as Robert Bowers, a white supremacist terrorist motivated by anti-Semitic and anti-immigration ideology. The attack left six people injured, four of whom were police officers. The gunman was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a military grade weapon of the same type that has been used in previous attacks such as Sandy Hook and Orlando, among many others. Not only does this massacre bring into the forefront the debate about Second Amendment reform, it also exposes the entrenched white supremacy within the U.S.
One user on the social media network Gab had been connected with the white supremacist attacker. On the morning of the shooting, he wrote that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a non-profit providing humanitarian aid to refugees, “likes to bring in invaders that kill our people,” according to Time. Following the attack, President Trump said gun laws had “little to do with” the shooting, claiming that if the synagogue, a place of worship, had “protection inside, the results wold have been far better.” Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman from California, commented on Trump that “the tone that he sets is one of division, often one of hatred, sometimes one of incitement of violence against journalists. There is no escaping the tone that he sets for the country.”
Schiff’s remarks and others like them are the product of Trump’s controversial stances and attitudes throughout his campaigns and during his presidency, such as when he refused to condemn the white nationalism on glaring display during the Charlottesville riots in 2017. Indeed, his anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions have been a focal point to his presidency. Following the president’s promise during his campaign to have “a total complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” he introduced blocks of entry to the U.S. for people from six Muslim-majority countries such as Yemen, Libya and Iran.
The actions of the President and his inability to condemn white supremacy has legitimized the actions of those who feel they are superior based on the colour of their skin or the nature of their religious beliefs. The people killed on Saturday were murdered for dedicating their lives to make the world a better, more peaceful place. The actions of the white supremacist who took it upon himself to kill based on his racist, hate-filled ideology expose him, and white supremacists like him, as nothing but weak – committed to ongoing violence within the world. Just one day after the attack on Pittsburgh, two Islamic non-profits, CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, have raised over $110,000 in 2 days, according to Business Insider, for the victims of this tragic incident and their families. It is those who are committed to peace who demonstrate their humanity and rise above the hateful acts of white supremacists, who overcome the weakness of those who refuse to condemn their actions and the dangerous apathy of those who blindly support the right to bear arms.
The election of President Donald Trump marked a turning point in recent history in which racist nationalism is now legitimized and championed openly. It is for this reason that American history, and global history, continues to be marked by white supremacy. Not only this, but the political power of the NRA has massively exacerbated the ongoing violence in the U.S. The events in Pittsburgh are another tragic example of how the U.S. Government is failing to recognise that the toxic politics of the gun lobby are contributing to a national crisis. The inability of the President to acknowledge the danger that both white supremacy and gun laws pose to American citizens, makes him grossly inadequate for his job.
Whilst often we only acknowledge white supremacy when it erupts through violent and murderous acts such as this, it nevertheless continues to exist in every day interactions. Confront racism and discrimination amongst your communities, families and friends. As Desmond Tutu stated, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”