WASHINGTON — House Democrats says emergency hearings are needed in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre to address rising hate crimes, with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) appealing to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to ensure these would convene as soon as possible.
Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pa., was charged in a 44-count indictment returned Wednesday; this includes federal hate crimes charges in the murders of 11 worshippers and wounding of six others, including four officers, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services this past Saturday.
Officials say that while inside the Tree of Life, Bowers made statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.” He had a trove of social media posts that were anti-Semitic.
“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety. The defendant in this case allegedly murdered 11 innocent people during religious services and injured four law enforcement officers. These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation.”
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) sent a letter Monday to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) citing the synagogue shooting, the pipe-bomb mail spree by suspect Cesar Sayoc, who reportedly told co-workers he “dislikes gays, African-Americans, Jews, and anybody who isn’t white,” and the shooting a week ago of two African-Americans at a grocery store in Jeffersontown, Ky.
In the last case, Gregory Bush allegedly first tried to enter a predominantly African-American church but the church administrator was not at his post at the time to unlock the door. After shooting the two victims at the Kroger store, Bush allegedly told a civilian who was carrying a handgun, “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.” Kentucky’s hate-crimes law does not cover homicide.
“We should not waste time trying to discern the minor differences in these small but dangerous worldviews. Whether it manifests itself as racism or anti-Semitism or xenophobia, white supremacy is white supremacy. In its modern form, it motivates a fluid and particularly virulent form of domestic terrorism. It must be stopped,” the lawmakers wrote to Goodlatte, noting they asked for hearings after the August 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Va., but Goodlatte never responded.
They argued that Goodlatte “already set the precedent for interrupting this recess for committee business” with Judiciary Republicans’ ongoing probe into the FBI and Justice Department. “If this work — which does not, by any stretch, involve the safety of our communities — merits a break from the campaign trail, surely the emergency now before us deserves our immediate attention as well,” the Dems added.
Goodlatte has not publicly responded to the hearing request. He tweeted in response to the synagogue massacre, “What happened at Tree of Life Synagogue is pure evil. Antisemitism and all ugly forms of hatred toward fellow human beings made in the image of God are contrary to our nation’s values. I mourn the lives lost and am praying for the Pittsburgh community.”
Hoyer told Ryan in a letter Wednesday that the House “has been slow to confront growing hate in the United States even during the 115th Congress, a period in which anti-Semitism and other forms of hate have soared.”
“I implore you to use your authority to urge, at a minimum, that the House Judiciary Committee hold hearings on the manifestations and causes of domestic terrorism that threaten every community – on the earliest possible date,” Hoyer said. “…Ultimately, what the House chooses to do with its time is a reflection of its values and priorities. If the institution you have led for the last three years cannot summon the will to confront the promoters of hate in this country and their followers, these malign elements will win, at least in the short-term.”
Ryan said after the Pittsburgh shooting that he is “deeply devastated by this tragedy, the roots of which appear to be especially repulsive.”
“The sickening reality is that anti-Semitism in America continues to rear its ugly head. It is an ideology of hate that must be eradicated wherever it may surface,” Ryan said. “This is a time to mourn and heal, but also to reaffirm that we will not tolerate this bigotry.”