Gun violence in the US

Trump pays tribute at Pittsburgh massacre synagogue, shunned by officials and scorned by a victim’s family

  • Some in Pittsburgh blame Trump for fuelling the anti-Semitism that inspired Saturday’s massacre of 11 inside a synagogue
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 5:20am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 7:20am

A mourning family doesn’t want to meet him. Leaders of his own party declined to join him. The mayor explicitly asked him not to come. Protesters mobilised.

And yet US President Donald Trump went ahead with plans to visit grief-stricken Pittsburgh on Tuesday, amid accusations that he and his administration continue to fuel the anti-Semitism that inspired Saturday’s massacre inside a synagogue.

Trump and First Lady Melania paid solemn tribute to the 11 people slain in the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in American history, placing a stone and a white rosebud for each of them outside the Tree of Life synagogue where they were killed. Protesters nearby shouted that the president was not welcome.

Shouts of “Words matter!” and “Trump, go home!” could be heard.

The Trumps arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday afternoon, not long after the first funerals began for the victims . More than 1,300 people signed up for a demonstration taking place at the same time – declaring Trump “unwelcome in our city and in our country”.

Congressional leaders from both parties – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – declined invitations to join Trump on his visit, according to officials familiar with matter.

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(McConnell’s office said the Kentucky senator “has events in the state and was unable to attend.”)

So have relatives of at least one of the victims.

Everybody feels that [Trump’s remarks] were inappropriate. He was blaming the community
Stephen Halle, nephew of shooting victim Daniel Stein

Trump offered to visit with the family of Daniel Stein, a 71-year-old who had just become a grandfather when he was gunned down at Tree of Life temple. Stein’s nephew, Stephen Halle, said the family declined in part because of the comments Trump made in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, when he suggested the synagogue should have had an armed guard.

“Everybody feels that they were inappropriate,” Halle said Tuesday. “He was blaming the community.”

Stein’s funeral was one of four scheduled for Tuesday. In the late morning, hundreds of mourners lined up to see the coffins of Cecil and David Rosenthal – two brothers gunned down at Tree of Life three days earlier, as they celebrated the Jewish Sabbath with Stein and the other victims.

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The city’s Democratic mayor, Bill Peduto, had asked the White House to consider “the will of the families” before visiting – as well as the resources of a city straining under the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

“All attention should be on the victims,” Peduto said on Monday. “We do not have enough public safety officials to provide enough protection at the funerals and … at the same time draw attention to a potential presidential visit.”

After Trump confirmed his visit anyway, the mayor’s office said Peduto would not appear with the president. Neither will Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who lives near the synagogue, his office said.

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Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers – who called out “hate” in a speech after the shooting – has said he plans to welcome the president. “Hate is not political,” he told The Washington Post. “It is not blue or red, it’s not male or female, it doesn’t know any of those divisions.”

As Trump left Washington for Pittsburgh, Kara Bernstein was on her way to protests in Squirrel Hill, the predominantly Jewish neighbourhood where the synagogue is located and many victims lived. Trump has not said whether he will visit the area.

Bernstein, who lives near Tree of Life and was at another house of worship during Saturday’s massacre, went with two friends in part to urge people to vote. Her second motivation, she emphasised, was speaking out against Trump.

“I personally hold Trump and his rhetoric accountable for the tragedy that occurred,” she said. She believes his visit is a “distraction from the grieving.”

Squirrel Hill resident Paul Carberry said Trump should not have visited until the dead were buried.

“He didn’t pull the trigger, but his verbiage and actions don’t help,” Carberry said.

Tree of Life has been closed since Saturday’s rampage, which was allegedly carried out by Robert Bowers, who had ranted online that Jews were bringing “invaders in that kill our people.”

Bowers was referring to a Jewish group that works with refugees in the United States. Trump has repeatedly referred to migrants as dangerous invaders, and did so again in a tweet on Monday. The president has also repeatedly denigrated “globalists” despite warnings from Jewish groups that the word is code for Jews in anti-Semitic circles, and appeared in one of Bowers’s online rants.

Trump’s supporters, however, paint him as a friend to Jews, pointing out his Jewish daughter and son-in-law – both of whom were seen leaving the White House with him on Tuesday – as well as his support for the Israeli government and his condemnations of “evil” anti-Semitism after the attack.

“I’m just going to pay my respects,” Trump said in a Fox News interview Monday evening. “I’m also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt. So, and I really look forward to going. I would have done it even sooner, but I didn’t want to disrupt anymore than they already had disruption.”

More than 70,000 people have signed an open letter published by a progressive Jewish organisation in Pittsburgh, saying Trump is not welcome in the city until he denounces white nationalism and stops “targeting” minorities in his rhetoric and policies. “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the letter reads.

Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor who led the Anti-Defamation League for nearly 30 years, made the same argument to reach the opposite conclusion from the letter signers.

“I want him to come to Pittsburgh,” the former ADL director told the Times of Israel. “I want him to go to the funerals. I want him to see the pain of what he didn’t do but his words helped create.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press