How should we talk about the tragedy in Pittsburgh?

Another mass shooting breaks our hearts and restarts the conversation: how do we stem the tide of extreme violence in the U.S.? The usual points are made: gun control, social media, the rise of the Alt-Right. Polarization. Politization. And, as victims are named, and wounded are cared for, this time we’re also talking about the role of anti-Semitism, and how it has taken root in our soil.

With the murders in the Tree of Life synagogue, we need to expand our list beyond the “mentally ill” and “social outcasts” because there might be something more going on.

The usual suspects are to blame for another mass shooting.


The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world.

And, there are more public mass shootings in the U.S. than in any other country in the world.

For a more detailed look at this issue, check out the WordStirs debate here.

copycat effect

Homicide rates have dropped in the U.S., yet mass shootings are on the rise. Studies have shown that mass shootings create a contagion effect, or copycat syndrome.

Award-wining writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote about mass shootings this way: each shooting, he says, lowers the threshold for another shooting. In other words, more potential shooters are likely to join the shooting bandwagon if they can see video of other mass shooters, for example. It’s a why-normal people-join-a-riot theory that was developed by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter. Gladwell writes, “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”

The shooting in Pittsburgh suggests we should look at anti-Semitism in the U.S.

there is an unfavorable climate in the U.S. for minority populations

antisemitic incidents on the rise

The number of antisemitic incidents across the US as a whole rose 57% in 2017, according to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979.

The ADL also highlighted an increase in antisemitic abuse and harassment on social media in a report this month.

ADL identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated throughout the United States in 2017. This is an increase of 57 percent over the 1,267 incidents reported in 2016. For the first time since at least 2010, an incident occurred in every U.S. state. The states with the highest numbers of incidents were New York (380 incidents), California (268 incidents), New Jersey (208 incidents), Massachusetts (177), Florida (98), and Pennsylvania (96).

antisemitic incidents on the rise in social media

Social media has become more hostile for Jewish Americans. Prior to the election of President Trump, anti-Semitic harassment and attacks were rare, even for Jewish Americans who were public figures. Following his election, anti-Semitism has become harassment is a daily occurrence.

FBI data for 2016, shows that 54.4% of victims of anti-religious hate crimes were Jewish, and 24.5% were Muslim.

racist rhetoric on the rise

Some people blame the rise in hate speech and hate crime on a political culture in which people feel empowered to express prejudice and hatred.

There has been a shift in the “Overton window” since President Trump campaigned and then took office. The “Overton window” is the window of acceptable discourse or discussion on an issue. What was once inappropriate language becomes common and accepted.

The theory goes something like this: the best way to shift the window of what’s acceptable to be said is to talk about really radical ideas. Then, by comparison, new ideas don’t sound so radical. Bam: the Overton window has shifted.

That’s what President Trump has done, some say. His extreme ideas have made somewhat-extreme ideas seem less so.

Specifically, when he makes racist statements or polices, being a little racist doesn’t sound so bad. Being a little racist is normalized.

the far right empowered

At a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers carried Swastikas and offered Nazi-style salutes to each other, that ended in a woman get mowed down by a car. The event was seen by the far right as a successful campaign, particularly when President Trump commented, “You had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” The far right perceives this statement to be official approval of their conduct (even though it was not).

alt-right presence on college campuses on the rise

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote for The Washington Post, “Campus anti-Semitism has come from across the political spectrum. For several years now, alt-right and neo-Nazi groups have targeted college campuses to spread their hateful ideologies and recruit young people for their movements. The ADL found that white supremacist propaganda on college campuses nearly doubled in the 2017-18 school year from the year prior.”

George Soros and the connection to President Trump

President Trump accused the liberal Jewish billionaire of staging the elevator scene prior to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, in which two women tearfully protested the Supreme Court justice appointment. President Trump also accused Soros of funding the immigrant caravan through Mexico. Geek out on it here.

even though tolerance is in our constitution

Tolerance for political and religious differences is foundational for the U.S.. Still, President Trump has fought for Muslim bans, he referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries, he uses MS-13 to smear all immigrants, he refers to Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

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