Enough time has now passed - a long day and a half - for us to begin to know the lessons we must learn and actions we must take in the wake of the murder of 11 innocent Jews, in Pittsburgh yesterday morning.
First, you must understand that this is NOT about guns and it is NOT about mental illness and it is NOT about violence in America. Do you really think he would have killed fewer people with the 3 handguns than he did with the rifle? This is about Anti-Semitism in its full form: murder of Jews.
Anti-Semitism is a form of hate, that is unique and insipid. It is not racism. It is based in a literature of conspiracy, dehumanization and accusation of guilt for whatever wrong the hater believes in. If the hater is theological, we rejected and killed Jesus. If the hater is rich, we are communists. If the hater is poor, we are bankers and greedy capitalists. If the hater is counter-cultural, we are the media and Hollywood. If the hater is a racist, we are mongrels. Anti-Semitism is the chameleon of hate, ever changing and adapting and never based in fact that can be rationally countered.
This attacker believed in a form of Anti-Semitism that was based in white purity of race, combined with a sense of American nationalism defined by that racial profile. Jews, immigrants, blacks, latinos, asians and others are all an attack on the purity of the nation that he wishes existed. Wishing we had more "immigrants from Norway" panders to and emboldens this form of racism. The fact that Jews - largely because of our history as victims to anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world - also support the cause of refugees and immigrants is a double offense to this kind of hater. Killing Jews, therefore, was a logical attack on his perceived enemies. This is a rational connection, with a logical conclusion, and therefore is NOT the action of mental illness. It is the form of hate known as anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
This killer is not alone. He referenced #Qanon on his social pages, a murky far right conspiracy theory that believes in a dark government, run by a Jewish conspiracy's control of liberal politicians, to overthrow government and advance an anti-white hidden agenda. In the #Qanon world, the list of enemies includes every single person who was mailed a pipe bomb last week. No, he was not alone. He is part of a series of overlapping worlds of anti-Semitism on the far right, all of which are primed for violence and murder.
There are lessons/actions that must come from this:
1) Support the Victims in Pittsburgh at this emergency fund. They need it. They deserve it.
2) Name this as anti-Semitism. It is not a "tragedy" or a "horror" or "unthinkable" in any way. It is the normal, logical and inevitable outcome of the oldest hate still alive in humanity and it is not going away. It now has a literature from the medieval church, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler, the Hamas Charter and more - any one of which you may google, find and read easily in the information age. They now all reference each other to create a world where their lies and hate become self-validating as if they were true. It will not go away. It needs to be named, called out, and condemned.
3) America is a land of freedom. You may outlaw one gun or another, and strengthen background checks for mental illness, prior convictions, drugs, alcoholism, domestic abuse and more. Those may or may not be very good things. But they will not stop this kind of violence. Do you want the government profiling unpleasant political voices, and diminishing their civil rights without ever committing a crime? Do you want freedom of expression outlawed? Please God, no. Since the anti-Semite is neither insane, nor criminal, none of this will prevent him or her from gaining the legal means to kill.
4) The only answer is the harden soft targets. Period. Everything else is politics. Since we know that bad people will try to kill, and we can't prevent it before it happens without undermining our own democracy and civil rights, we must admit that the only thing that stops a shooter is a shortage of bullets or opposing force. We must be that opposing force. It is time that the Department of Homeland Security expand its funding to know that anti-Semitism is the single greatest base of bias attacks and terrorism in America year after year. We need hardened buildings, and armed security like the Jewish communities of Europe, South America and Israel. It is naive to simply wish that we don't want to have to see or pass guns when we enter our houses of worship. The question is, what risk are you willing to take? For me, I love the lives of my congregants too much to accept any avoidable risk, and our synagogue is just like Tree of Life. I want trained, competent persons on site. I don't care if they are paid or not. You do not need to be a police officer to be fully competent, but it sure would help.
5) We need emergency measures, education and drills in our synagogues, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and more. Everyplace that is visibly Jewish is a potential target. In france, it was a kosher supermarket. In Pittsburgh, a synagogue.
I do not take this view lightly. I am a social liberal, with deep feelings regarding civil rights, freedoms, pluralism and peaceful actions. But anti-Semitism is not overcome in a debate, and guns are not stopped by wishful thinking.