Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter Charged With Multiple Federal And State Crimes

Charges have been filed against the man responsible for the massacre in Pittsburgh in both Federal and State court.

Robert Bowers, the shooter who killed eleven people and injured six others, including four police officers, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday, has been charged with more than two dozen violations of Federal law as well as numerous charges under Pennsylvania law that could result in him being sentenced to death:

PITTSBURGH — Armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others, the authorities said.

In a rampage described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States, the assailant stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation, where worshipers had gathered in separate rooms to celebrate their faith, and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, shattering what had otherwise been a peaceful morning.

The assailant, identified by law enforcement officials as Robert D. Bowers, fired for several minutes and was leaving the synagogue when officers, dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, met him at the door. According to the police, Mr. Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers before retreating back inside and barricading himself inside a third-floor room. He eventually surrendered.

Mr. Bowers, 46, was injured by gunfire, although the authorities said it was unclear whether those wounds were self-inflicted or whether the police had shot him. He was in stable condition Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Federal officials charged Mr. Bowers with 29 criminal counts. They included obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.

The authorities said that he had no previous criminal history.

Though a bris, a ceremony to mark a child’s birth, was among the ceremonies taking place Saturday, no children were among the casualties, law enforcement officials said. The wounded included a 70-year-old man who had been shot in the torso, and a 61-year-old woman with soft tissue wounds, said Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The attack Saturday morning struck the heart of the city’s vibrant Jewish community, in the leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood that is home to several synagogues, kosher restaurants and bakeries. Hours later, hundreds gathered at three separate interfaith vigils on a cold, rainy evening to mourn the dead and pray for the wounded.

The assault on the synagogue unfolded on a quiet, drizzly morning, and came amid a bitter, vitriolic midterm election season and against the backdrop of what appears to be a surge in hate-related speech and crimes across America. It also took place in the wake of the arrest Friday morning of a man who the authorities said sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of Mr. Trump, including several high-profile Democrats.

Calling it the “most horrific crime scene” he had seen in 22 years with the F.B.I., Robert Jones, special agent in charge in Pittsburgh, said the synagogue was in the midst of a “peaceful service” when congregants were gunned down and “brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.”

“We simply cannot accept this violence as a normal part of American life,” said Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, speaking at a news conference Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Pennsylvanians and are not who we are as Americans.”

The anguish of Saturday’s massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric. Critics of President Trump have argued that he is partly to blame for recent acts of violence because he has been stirring the pot of nationalism, on Twitter and at his rallies, charges that Mr. Trump has denied.

About Saturday’s attack, Mr. Trump, addressing reporters at Joint Base Andrews, said: “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world, and something has to be done.”

“The results are very devastating,” he said, adding that if the temple “had some kind of protection” then “it could have been a much different situation.”

Later, speaking to reporters as he got off Air Force One in Illinois, Mr. Trump said he planned to visit Pittsburgh but he did not say when.

Leaders in the United States and across the world condemned the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he was “heartbroken and appalled” and that the “the entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that criminal charges by the Justice Department “could lead to the death penalty.”

“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Mr. Sessions said. “Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety.”

The massacre Saturday was at least the third mass shooting in a house of worship in three years. Last November, a gunman killed 26 worshipers at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., and in 2015, a white supremacist killed nine congregants in a church in Charleston, S.C.

As for the Defendant, it appears that Bowers had been heavily influenced by the alt-right and other aspects of the far-right:

Anti-Semitism appeared to run deep for Mr. Bowers. Before it was deleted Saturday morning, a social media account believed to belong to him was filled with anti-Jewish slurs and references to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

In January, an account under his name was created on Gab, a social network that bills itself as a free speech haven. The app, which grew out of claims of anti-conservative bias by Facebook and Twitter, is a popular gathering place for alt-right activists and white nationalists whose views are unwelcome on other social media platforms. Early members included the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Bowers’s account posted a link to the website of HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit organization, which was planning a shabbat ceremony for refugees in locations around the country. The caption read: “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?”

And hours before the gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue, the account posted again: “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 said in a statement on Saturday: “There are no words to express how devastated we are by the events in Pittsburgh this morning.”

Shortly after Mr. Bowers was named the suspect in the shooting, Gab confirmed that the name on the account, which was verified, matched that of the suspect. The company archived the account before taking it offline, and released a statement saying it was cooperating with law enforcement.

“Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence,” the statement read.

For those who have never heard of it, Gab is a Twitter-like social network that was set up amid the controversy that arose when Twitter began banning accounts from alt-righters and conservatives alleged to have posted offensive conduct, although the site itself doesn’t appear to have any particular partisan bias. I have an account there myself that I have never used and which I mostly set up to prevent anyone from creating an account using the handle I typically use on social media. It has a much smaller user base than Twitter, though, and has so far not managed to break through into something that is commonly used. The site does not have nearly the functionality of Twitter, and many of the features that are free to use on Twitter, such as creating curated lists of users, are only available if one is willing to pay a subscription fee. In any case, it has apparently become a haven for many of the alt-righters and others banned on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites due to the fact that the founders of the site saying that they wanted the site to be a platform for free speech. How long they will continue to allow people like Bowers to post there is now an open question, especially given the fact that they now appear to be experiencing blowback, such as the decision by Paypal to end its relationship with the site, from their apparent openness to people with ideas such as Bowers.

The New York Times has further details about Bowers, his beliefs, and his background:

For months, Robert D. Bowers had been spewing his anger in post after post on the web, calling immigrants “invaders,” distributing racist memes and asserting that Jews were the “enemy of white people.”

Then, on Saturday, moments before the police say he barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue with an assault rifle and three handguns, he tapped out a final message: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The authorities said Mr. Bowers, 46, then killed at least 11 people in and around the synagogue, Tree of Life, a spacious building with stained glass windows, a golden memorial tree and a Torah rescued from the Holocaust.

It was the Sabbath, the synagogue’s busiest day. The attack was one of the deadliest on the Jewish community in United States history.

“The actions of Robert Bowers represent the worst of humanity,” said Scott W. Brady, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Please know that justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe.”

(…)

Mr. Bowers frequently reposted anti-Semitic content that alleged Jews control the nation. On a doctored image of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the gate read: “Lies Make Money.” Another post said: “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

Mr. Bowers also extended his anger to the president, whom he accused of not going far enough to achieve the political goals Mr. Bowers wanted.

Days before the shooting, he wrote: “Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a” — he inserted a slur for Jews — “infestation.”

Another doctored image showed the president in conversation with a man wearing a skullcap. Yet another post featured a suitcase of guns.

Clearly, Bowers was motivated by many of the same themes that have taken hold in the fever swamps of the alt-right, and which are spread not only on Gab, but also on more mainstream social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. They are the same ideas that motivated the people who marched through the streets of Charlottesville shouting Nazi-like slogans such as “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” more than a year ago during a rally that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist currently facing murder charges in Virginia. It also comes at a time when crimes motivated by anti-Semitism have been on the rise. According to the FBI, the vast majority, fifty-four percent, of religiously-motivated bias crimes in 2016 were targeted at Jewish Americans. Muslim-Americans were the second most targeted group, accounting for twenty-four percent of such crimes.

In any case, the charges against Bowers on the federal level include:

• Eleven counts of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Death (18 U.S.C. §§ 247(a)(2) and 247(d)(1))

• Eleven counts of Use of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence (18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 924(j)(1))

• Four counts of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Bodily Injury to a Public Safety Officer (18 U.S.C. §§ 247(a)(2) and 247(d)(3))

• Three counts of Use and Discharge of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence (18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 924(iii))

Pittsburgh Police, meanwhile, filed a Criminal Complaint against Bowers that include:

Taken together, all of these charges would be sufficient to make Bowers eligible for the death penalty and/or life in prison without parole under either Federal or State law. It appears at the moment, though, that the Federal Government will be taking the lead in the case and will get first crack at trying him in Court, much like what occurred in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was charged in both Federal and State court but ultimately convicted and sentenced to death in Federal Court, where his case remains on the standard course of appeals for Federal death penalty. In any case, it’s safe to say that Robert Bowers will never see the outside of a prison ever again in his life except, perhaps, as he is being transferred to and from court as may be necessary. The damage, however, is done, and a community and a nation is left to grieve in the wake of his heinous actions.

Here are the Federal Criminal Complaint, and the Criminal Complaint filed by Pittsburgh Police:

United States v. Robert Bowers by on Scribd

Robert Bowers Criminal Comp… by on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. John430 says:

    C’mon, Doug. You didn’t blame Trump for this one. You know you want to, don’t you? So here we go: 10, 9, 8…

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  2. Mister Bluster says:

    10, 9, 8…Who do we appreciate? Hail Trump!

    White supremacists have reacted with delight to Donald Trump’s alleged “sh**hole countries” comments, with a prominent neo-Nazi (Andrew Anglin Daily Stormer) claiming they suggested the US president was “more or less on the same page as us with regards to race and immigration”.
    “I think it is clear that Trump’s ideal America is the one he grew up with in the 1950s. And the closer we get to that, the closer we are to our own goals of a white race-state*.”

    *I wonder which Area Code they think that they will be using?
    555 (KKK)?

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  3. An Interested Party says:

    Just because John refuses to recognize reality doesn’t mean that anyone else should…

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  4. John430 says:

    LOL! In about a week and a half I’ll be celebrating reality here in Texas as we watch the blue wave dissolve into a trickle.