A gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, on Saturday, killing 11 worshipers. The massacre is being described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. The victims have been identified as Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon. They ranged in age from 54 to 97. Six others were injured, including four policemen. They were gathered on Saturday morning for Shabbat services when a 46-year-old white man named Robert Bowers entered the synagogue armed with an AR-15 and three handguns. He yelled “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on worshipers. We speak with Dr. David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist who has volunteered with HIAS in Philadelphia helping refugees. He is also the uncle of Stephen Miller, a key political adviser to President Trump who has pushed for a crackdown on immigrants.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
VIGIL PARTICIPANTS: [singing]
AMY GOODMAN: That was the scene at a candlelight vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Saturday night, just hours after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue. Eleven worshipers were killed in what’s being described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
The victims have been identified as Cecil Rosenthal, his brother David Rosenthal, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon, a married couple. They ranged in age from 54 to 97. Six others were injured, including four policemen.
The worshipers were gathered on Saturday morning for Shabbat services when a 46-year-old white man named Robert Bowers entered the synagogue armed with an AR-15 and three handguns. He yelled “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on worshipers. When Bowers was finally taken into custody 20 minutes later, he reportedly told a SWAT team officer he “wanted all Jews to die.” This is FBI special agent Bob Jones.
BOB JONES: This is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Members of the Tree of Life synagogue, conducting a peaceful service in their place of worship, were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.
AMY GOODMAN: Just before the shooting rampage, the gunman, Robert Bowers, wrote a message online saying, ”HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” HIAS refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a humanitarian aid nonprofit group that provides assistance to refugees coming into the United States for more than 130 years. He posted the message on Gab, a site frequented by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and far-right users kicked off Twitter for racism or harassment.
The shooting rampage caps a hate-filled week in America. On Wednesday, a white man with a history of violence fatally shot two African Americans at a Kentucky grocery store, following an apparent failed attempt to attack a black church. On Friday, authorities arrested an avid Trump supported named Cesar Sayoc, who’s accused of mailing 14 bombs addressed to CNN and political opponents of President Trump, including the Clintons, the Obamas, as well as George Soros, Tom Steyer, Senators Kamala Harris as well as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and others.
For more, we go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we’re joined by two guests. Dr. David Glosser is with us. He’s a retired neuropsychologist who has volunteered with HIAS in Philadelphia, helping refugees resettle there. He is also the uncle of Stephen Miller, a key political adviser to President Trump who has pushed for a crackdown on immigrants. David Glosser recently wrote a piece for Politico magazine headlined “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” And we’re also joined by Ari Lev Fornari. He is a rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia who has worked with HIAS, as well.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! David Glosser, let’s begin with you. Your response to what took place in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning, the murders?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Good morning. Before I begin, I’d like to express my condolences to my many friends and relatives in Pittsburgh, and specifically in the Squirrel Hill region, where they live.
We have now been subject to the consequences of our political leaders abandoning their moral responsibilities. The question has been asked: What happens when hate speech becomes legitimized and it becomes acceptable in our political discourse to condemn and vilify innocent people on the basis of race, religion, national origin or color? The answer has made itself very clear in the last few days, and in the last week with the pipe bomb attacks upon political opponents of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump has made it his policy to vilify and dehumanize Hispanics, Muslims, nonwhites, calling them subhuman animals that are infesting our country like so many insects or rats. Make no mistake about it: This is the same kind of propaganda that is identical to the racist rants at Nazi Party rallies in Germany in the 1930s. Now Trump spews the same poisonous messages to his supporters and claims innocence when this inflammatory vitriol is sprayed over society. He claims innocence now that this political gasoline catches fire and people get hurt and killed.
I’m horrified by it. I’d love to say I was surprised, but I’m not. More shockingly, the Republican Congress has tolerated his vilification. Where have been their cries of outrage? They’re the so-called responsible people in our country, in positions of political leadership. Their silence has been deafening. I would say that this silence tends to legitimize the crazy conspiracy theories, the hate speech, the threats, the violent acts of the most noxious white nationalist elements of the American political spectrum.
Mr. Trump is even unashamed to tell us that among the chanting Nazis in Charlottesville, there were many fine people, drawing a false moral equivalency between those protesting against these kinds of actions and the Nazis themselves. Should we now be surprised that well-armed white nationalist bigots, isolated—isolated, friendless loners seeking validation for their empty lives, that they act out on their hate? I think not.
Now, Mr. Trump didn’t pull the trigger in the synagogue. He didn’t mail those bombs. But for the first time in 50 years, he’s made bigoted hate speech in America a legitimate tool of political manipulation. His endless barrage of excited hatred threats and lies has consequences, as we have seen. I regard Mr. Trump as a hopeless moral imbecile, indifferent to the deadly consequences of his inflammatory conduct.
But those politicians who know better still do not say much. They don’t stand up and loudly denounce his hate speech. They don’t denounce his lies. They’re hypocrites. They’re cowards. Their deafening silence condemns them more loudly than any courtroom ever could.
And so, what can we say? We have to take the actions that are most prudent, that are most—that are loudest, that are the most effective. That means getting out and voting. Vote your conscience.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. David Glosser, the shooter, Bowers, made his—
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —made his justification very clear. I mean, he tweeted minutes before—didn’t use tweet, but used Gab—going into this synagogue, saying he wanted to kill all Jews, but specifically going after a Jewish organization called HIAS, which stands for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a group that you work for, as well as our next guest, Ari Lev Fornari. And he immediately made the link between Jews and immigrants, helping immigrants coming into this country. Among his Gab posts, he said, “I have noticed a change in people saying 'illegals' that now say 'invaders.'” He wrote this six days before. He said, “I like” that, as he referred continually to the caravan of people coming up.
You are particularly close to this story in an unusual way. You’re a volunteer for HIAS. You work with refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, from all over the world, trying to resettle in the United States. And your nephew, Stephen Miller, is one of President Trump’s closest advisers, particularly on the issue of immigration. Your headline in the Politico piece, this is before the attack this weekend, “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” Can you talk about this linkage that Bowers made from Jews to Jewish organizations bringing in refugees, as he called them invaders—a language that President Trump himself has used?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Yes. Let me tell you a little bit about HIAS. HIAS helped to rescue my family about a hundred years ago. It now serves to protect desperate refugees worldwide. I’m proud to be a volunteer for them. Almost every American family in the United States, apart from those who came unwillingly as slaves, and apart from those who are Native Americans, everyone else came here, by and large, to flee danger, oppression, hunger and fear. And together, those folks have built a nation, fought her wars and advanced the cause of freedom and justice in the world. We must not turn our backs on this fundamentally American mission or let opportunistic, hate-filled politicians turn us against them. The words on the Statue of Liberty should be remembered: “Give us your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
So, I am particularly horrified and angry about the cynical political exploitation of poor people trying to escape from oppression. We can’t solve all the problems in the world, but we can certainly—the United States is a large, powerful, wealthy country, very good at absorbing immigrants, as you can determine just by going out in the street and asking anybody you see, where did their family come from originally. We’re great at absorbing immigrants. And we need to do our duty to help people who are desperately fleeing from horrible conditions, as my family did a hundred years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting. In your piece, you write that Stephen Miller would not be here, President Trump’s senior adviser—
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: —especially around immigration issues, if it weren’t for immigrants being allowed into this country, your family, some of them, surviving the Holocaust and being brought here. You—
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: We had about—
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Go ahead. We had—it was back in 1903 that my great-grandfather followed his older brother out of the town of Antopol, which is a little village in what’s now Belarus, under conditions, terrible conditions there, of persecution and mob violence against Jews. He came to the United States because the door was open. 1906, they were able to round up enough money to be able to send for the rest of the immediate family. Of the 74 of our family that could not get out of Belarus, because the immigration laws in the United States had changed, they were all murdered in the years leading up to and during World War II. The whole town, which there had originally been about 5,000 Jews in, in the early 1900s, most of them left, leaving about 2,000. Of the 2,000 that remained in Antopol, only seven are known to have survived the war.
Stephen Miller certainly would not have existed. My parents would likely have gone up the crematoria chimney, never have met. I would never have been born. His mother never would have been born. Certainly, Stephen wouldn’t have been born.
I understand and respect the history of refugees and immigrants because of our family’s personal experience, even if Stephen and Mr. Trump do not. Mr. Trump’s grandfather was—from what I understand, he was on the run from the German military from conscription into the army. His grandmother was an impoverished Scottish refugee looking for a better life in New York. You’d expect these people to have a little more understanding, a little more compassion, a little more realization that immigrants are good for this country and have been good for this country. But instead, they’ve turned to this poisonous vilification of people and dehumanizing them. This feeds into these crazy conspiracy theories that lead people, these unhinged people, like Bowers and Sayoc, to act out their own personal inadequacies by trying to be something important through violence.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to break.
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. It’s an old story.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, Dr. David Glosser, uncle of Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, speaking to us from Philadelphia. He’s a former faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine and Jefferson Medical College, and he is a volunteer for HIAS, helping to resettle refugees in the United States. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.