The Verdict: Robert Bowers Convicted for Deadliest Anti-Semitic Attack in US History
The deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States met its sentence this Friday. Robert Bowers, a trucker loaded with hatred of Jews who on October 27, 2018, broke into a synagogue in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and killed whoever he shot, 11 parishioners in total, has been convicted by a popular jury of the 68 charges of which he was accused. Now it’s up to the judge to decide whether he sends him to death row or sentences him to life in prison without possible parole.
The Trial: Plea Bargain Rejected
Lawyers for Bowers, 50, pleaded guilty to their client early in a multi-week trial. Their goal, they said, was to save his life. The prosecution, supported by several of the families of the victims, did not want to accept the plea bargain and decided to take the process to the end, seeking an execution. Among the crimes for which he now awaits conviction are murder, hatred resulting in death, or obstruction of religious freedom. One of the prosecutors said Thursday that the killer had turned a place of prayer into a “hunting ground” that day.
The Horrific Attack: A Violent Society
During the trial, it has been proven that Bowers interrupted the celebration of the Sabbath, the holy day in the Jewish synagogue week, in the Tree of Life synagogue armed with various weapons, including an AR-15 assault rifle, which is commonly used in mass shootings in the United States (296 incidents so far this year). In addition to the 11 dead, eight men and three women, Bowers injured seven other people, including five Pittsburgh police officers.
“I thank God for allowing us to live this day,” said Jeffrey Myers, the congregation’s rabbi, in a statement shared after the sentence was released. He survived the attack. “And I’m also grateful,” he added, “to the law enforcement who put themselves in danger to rescue me, and to the federal prosecutor who appeared in court to defend our right to pray.” Carole Zawatsky, CEO of The Tree of Life, stated that she hopes that the sentence will bring “some comfort” to the relatives and that it “helps to mitigate their pain, even slightly.”
Holocaust Denial: Unveiling Bowers’ Hatred
During the 11-day testimony phase, jurors heard stories about Bowers’ anti-Semitic hatred, which he spread online, with messages denying the Holocaust and apologizing for Adolf Hitler. Once he was arrested, he told the agents: “Those Jews deserved to die.”
According to the statement of charges, he published a text on the website gab.com, popular among far-right supporters, on October 10, 2018, in which he criticized the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and affiliated congregations, including the one he attacked. Just before embarking on his macabre mission at the Tree of Life synagogue, he wrote: “HIAS likes to bring in invaders who kill our people. I can’t sit back and watch that happen. Fuck it, I’m going in.”
Rising Anti-Semitism in the US
The condemnation comes at a time when anti-Semitism in the United States is growing, according to studies by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL’s annual report revealed that 3,697 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the country in 2022, a 36% increase from the previous year, which had set a historical record. Prominent figures like rapper Kanye West (now going by Ye) have also played a role in spreading hateful messages against Jews in the public sphere.
The Joe Biden Administration recently appointed Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt as the Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism. Lipstadt gained attention through the movie “Denial” (2016), which depicted her work in debunking dangerous Holocaust denial theories. The film portrayed her legal battle against British Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued her for libel after she discredited his unfounded claims in a book.