By Dion J. Pierre
June 16, 2023 5:05 PM
As the perpetrator of the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Oct. 2018 was convicted Friday of dozens of federal hate crimes, Jewish organizations across the country expressed on Friday their gratitude for the verdict.
“No verdict for the Tree of Life Synagogue murderer, even this one finding Bowers guilty on all charges, can ever compensate the victims or their families for the loss of their loved ones,” Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs, a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, told The Algemeiner. “That said, we hope the verdict will serve as a significant deterrent to anyone considering committing a deadly attack against Jews or others based on their religious or ethnic identity. We are grateful to everyone who gave their time and energy to ensure that justice has been served for this most vile antisemitic crime.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a Jewish human rights organization, also thanked the jury but stressed its belief that Bowers’ sentencing must be proportionate to the magnitude of the horrors he committed.
“This is the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in American history and Bowers should face the death penalty as this is the ultimate penalty for the ultimate crime,” SWC associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said. “We also want to recognize the grieving families of the 11 victims. The support their neighbors and their communities has shown them should be a model for all Americans.”
Bowers stormed into the synagogue, located in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 while it was hosting three congregations, Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light, for weekly Shabbat services. Armed with three handguns and an AR-15 rifle, Bowers shot out of a large window near the entrance to the synagogue and then opened fire on congregants, according to the indictment. He was shot in turn multiple times by police and ultimately surrendered and was taken into custody. Authorities have said they believe he acted alone.
The mass shooting left 11 people dead and six wounded, including four police officers who responded to the scene. Among the dead were a 97-year-old great-grandmother, an 87-year-old accountant and a couple who were married at the synagogue more than 60 years earlier.
Bower, whose victims were mostly elderly, was charged with 63 counts, including obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and hate crimes resulting in death. In the penalty phase of the case, prosecutors will argue that Bower premeditated the attack to persuade the jury that he deserves the death sentence, which he will only receive if the jury votes for it unanimously. His lawyers have argued that he does not deserve the death penalty, alleging that he suffers from schizophrenia, according to Reuters.
In another statement, the Western States Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for minority civil rights, highlighted Bowers’ belief in the ‘great replacement theory’ a far-right conspiracy accusing elites of using immigration to create a permanent non-white majority in the western world. The group said that such ideas, employed by white nationalists, requires renewed national attention.
“Since the shooting, this bigoted conspiracy has become so normalized in mainstream dialogue and politics that even the attacker’s attorney used it in defending this atrocious massacre,” said WSC director Lindsay Schubiner. “Racist and antisemitic violence is part of a white nationalist strategy to build political power, strike fear into the hearts of communities historically targeted by bigotry, and ultimately push them out of public life by making it dangerous to go to synagogue, to church, or even the grocery store. This threat requires a robust response, starting but not ending with a full disavowal of great replacement theory by those at every level of government.”
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