Robert Bowers: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect spewed anti-Semitic bile on social media
Robert Bowers, the suspect in the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, appears to have no criminal record. Yet his social media history makes disturbing reading, full of anti-Semitic anger and hate.
Shortly before he burst into the place of worship yelling "all Jews must die" on Saturday morning, the 46-year-old posted his final message on Gab, a social media platform popular with free speech advocates and white supremacists.
“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,” he said, using the acronym for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom.
His 20 minute rampage left 11 people dead and six others wounded, including four police officers, in what is believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.
Bowers, himself, was shot several times as he traded fire with police. He was in fair condition in hospital on Saturday night.
The suspect was charged with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes and weapons offences, federal charges that carry the death penalty.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation official said he was not previously known to law enforcement. Bob Jones, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, said law enforcement authorities believe he was acting alone but had not identified his full motive.
Bowers had 21 guns registered to his name, according to Representative Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania. Authorities said Bowers was armed with an assault rifle and at least three handguns when he burst into the Tree of Life synagogue.
A picture of the individual began to emerge on Saturday night through his social media history.
Bowers appears to be the author of a recent rash of violently anti-Semitic posts on the Gab.com social networking website, where conspiracy theories are common.
A quote atop the Bowers page said "jews are the children of satan," according to screenshots of the now-suspended account released by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist movements.
The cover photo featured the neo-Nazi symbol "1488." The first two numbers refer to the white supremacist "14 Words" slogan, while "88" stands for "Heil Hitler" since "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Among his recent posts, Bowers posted a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews, writing the caption "Make Ovens 1488F Again."
In other posts he featured memes containing false conspiracy theories suggesting the Holocaust – in which an estimated 6 million Jews perished – was a hoax.
Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
A message posted 17 days before Saturday’s attack accused HIAS of bringing "in hostile invaders to dwell among us" – and appeared to threaten one of the organisation’s projects.
"We appreciate the list of friends you have provided," the poster wrote, while linking to an event page for a "National Refugee Shabbat."
HIAS called the attack a "horrifying tragedy," saying "this loss is our loss."
In another post reported by The New York Times, Bowers said he did not care for President Donald Trump, because he "is a globalist, not a nationalist."
Using a slur for Jews, he said: "There is no #MAGA, as long as there is a k– infestation." MAGA refers to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.
Bowers also recently posted a photo of a collection of three black semi-automatic handguns he titled "my glock family," a reference to the Austrian firearms manufacturer.
He also shared photos of bullet holes in person-sized targets at a firing range, touting the "amazing trigger" on his weapon.
Bowers was registered in Allegany County, which includes Pittsburgh, as an unaffiliated voter. He lived about a 25-minute drive south of the synagogue in a neighbourhood that has been left shocked by the attack.
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One woman said she couldn’t believe the national epidemic of violent hate had reached their doorsteps. “I can’t believe it has spread out this far,” she told the New York Times.
Gab, a popular site with white nationalists and members of the so-called alt-right, released a statement saying it had "zero tolerance" for violence or terrorism and was "saddened and disgusted by the news" from Pittsburgh.
Gab said in a post that after learning of the attack, it had matched the name of the alleged shooter to the holder of its account.
It then took down the Bowers account and immediately contacted the FBI, adding: "We will do everything in our power to work with law enforcement to see that justice is served."