Following the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the U.S., local religious leaders are telling President Donald Trump not to visit the city until he denounces white nationalism

By Maura Hohman
October 29, 2018 01:17 PM

Following the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the U.S. on Saturday — when 11 people lost their lives and six more were injured during a shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — local religious leaders have said President Donald Trump should not visit the city until he denounces white nationalism.

Eleven representatives from the Pittsburgh chapter of Behind the Arc, a progressive Jewish group, addressed the 45th commander in chief, 72, in a letter outlining the impact of Trump’s rhetoric on the shooter, Robert Bowers.

Vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
| Credit: Matt Rourke/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“Yesterday, a gunman slaughtered 11 Americans during Shabbat morning services. We mourn with the victims’ families and pray for the wounded,” the note begins. “We are committed to healing as a community while we recommit ourselves to repairing our nation.”

Its authors then call out the president specifically, accusing his “words” and “policies of [emboldening] a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence. President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.”

Trump faced backlash for initially failing to denounce white supremacy following August 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which resulted in the death of 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer. He was criticized for placing equal blame on the protesters (which included white supremacists and white nationalists) and the counter-protestors, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

The letter also emphasizes how other minority groups have been seriously harmed by the current administration, including “people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”

Next, after criticizing Trump for his policies regarding refugees and immigrants, the Behind the Arc leaders conclude, “President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.”

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This message of unity — which Trump briefly espoused last week in response to the pipe bombs mailed to influential Democrats — is one that many communities have assumed in response to Saturday’s massacre. Notably, a Muslim crowdfunding website launched a campaign to support the victims and help their families cover funeral expenses and medical bills. Thanks to almost 3,000 donors, it reached its goal of $25,000 in less than six hours. It’s since been increased to $125,000, and as of Monday afternoon, it was less than $1,500 away.

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to visit with victims’ families, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday, according to a pool report.

On Oct. 27, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich announced at a press conference that authorities received a call about an active shooter at 9:54 a.m. The shooting took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city and no children were killed, officials announced.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters about a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base
| Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Four of the injured were officers who responded, Hissirch said. Pittsburgh police chief Scott Schubert said all four were in stable condition, adding, “We can not forget the victims who lost their lives.”

Trump condemned the shooting as an act of anti-Semitism. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime and the FBI will be leading the investigation, the public safety department announced.

On Sunday morning, federal prosecutors said that Bowers had been charged the night before with 29 federal crimes, most of which carry a maximum penalty of death.

An ambulance arrives at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where a shooter opened fire Saturday
| Credit: Gene J Puskar/AP/REX/Shutterstock

According to U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, Bowers faces 11 counts of murdering victims exercising their religious beliefs and 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder, as well as seven additional charges in connection with his alleged attack on the responding police officers at the scene, four of whom were wounded.

Brady said that during the rampage Bowers allegedly talked about genocide and wanting to kill Jewish people. He was armed with three handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle, according to Brady.

Bowers will make his initial court appearance Monday afternoon, Brady said.