Update, Sunday, 11:45 a.m. ET: Robert Bowers has been charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. He also was charged with 29 federal criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs and using a firearm to commit murder. Obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs is a hate crime.
After surrendering, Bowers told a SWAT team member he wanted “all Jews to die” and that they “were committing genocide” to his “people.”
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Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old suspect in the mass shooting at an eastern Pittsburgh synagogue, is an outspoken and vicious anti-Semite and racist who frequently posted hate speech on social media, including hours before the attack on Saturday.
A resident of the Baldwin borough south of Pittsburgh, PA, Bowers burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill and began shooting as Shabbat and other services were underway. He yelled, “All Jews must die,” as he began firing.
Armed with an AR-15 and three Glock handguns, Bowers reportedly shot four people on the main floor of the synagogue and at least four others in the basement. At least 11 people were killed and six others were injured, including four police officers—two of them in critical condition. Two of the injured officers are part of the SWAT team.
As police responded to the domestic terrorist attack, a shootout ensued, and Bowers re-entered the synagogue to attempt to hide. He reportedly was pinned down on the third floor. After sustaining multiple injuries, Bowers eventually surrendered and was taken to a local hospital.
The FBI is leading the investigation of the mass shooting, which is considered a hate crime. Prosecutors likely will charge Bowers by the end of the day on Saturday, according to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady.
On Saturday morning, Bowers had posted on the social media site Gab (emphasis mine): “HIAS [the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] 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.”
Gab, which is popular among white supremacists and other extremists, and Twitter removed Bowers’ accounts on Saturday. An archive of previous posts shows that Bowers has a violent obsession with HIAS’ work with refugees, and he often posted atrocious anti-Semitic slurs. He followed several white supremacist accounts.
Bowers shared conspiracy theories that claimed, among other things, “Jews are waging a propaganda war against Western civilization and it is so effective that we are headed towards certain extinction within the next 200 years and we’re not even aware of it.”
A month ago, Bowers posted a photo of three firearms with several ammunition clips, calling it his “glock family.”
A couple of days ago, Bowers criticized Donald Trump for being a “globalist, not a nationalist.”
There are other indications that Bowers’ criticisms of Trump stem from his belief that the president’s behavior isn’t extremist enough. As cyber-terror expert Chris Sampson noted, “Robert Bowers only stopped supporting Trump because he didn’t hate Jews enough to fit the views Bowers holds. He had hope that Trump would play out his racist agenda. Said differently, Trump wasn’t radical enough for him but was pointing the same direction.”
In a press conference late Saturday afternoon, FBI special agent Robert Jones said it was “the most horrific crime scene” he had ever seen in over two decades of service.
In a statement, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt called the mass shooting “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
He added: “It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age. Unfortunately, this violence occurs at time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment.”