Editorial | Hate is not leadership

synagogue

Illustrated by Gaby Fantone

Joyce Fienberg. Richard Gottfried. Rose Mallinger. Jerry Rabinowitz. Cecil Rosenthal. David Rosenthal. Bernice Simon. Sylvan Simon. Daniel Stein. Melvin Wax. Irving Younger.

These are the names of the 11 victims who were killed as they worshipped Oct. 27, in a sacred synagogue meant to be a safe place and refuge, by an anti-Semitic gunman with a history of hate-fueled and racist online rants.

We are just 309 days into 2018. As of Nov. 4, there have been 305 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Essentially, there have been almost as many mass shootings in the U.S. as there have been days so far this year.

The Pittsburgh gunman, who wielded a semiautomatic rifle and three handguns, allegedly shouted “Jews must die,” as he unleashed gunfire. This attack came just three days after a man was arrested in Florida for sending packages with pipe bombs to journalists and politicians across the U.S.

The main thing these two men have in common? Vitriolic, hateful and highly political rants on social media. Who do they have this in common with? President Donald Trump.

While an ti-Semitism and hateful language are nothing new, Trump’s ability to consistently get away with spreading racist and xenophobic rhetoric sets a precedent that this type of thinking is acceptable – if not commendable.

White nationalists on Twitter mention Trump more than any other topic, according to a 2016 study on the social media networks of extremists.

Online anti-Semitism surged after Trump’s election and around the time of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, according to a September 2018 study by the Network Contagion Research Institute.

The use of a derogatory slurs referring to African-Americans also spiked around this time, according to the study.

One of the sites where this language increased markedly was Gab, the site on which the Pittsburgh shooter posted most of his anti-Semitic rants.

At Chapman, after a Jewish student spoke at a vigil for the Pittsburgh shooting victims, she was sent a message on Instagram that said, “Jewish must be die. Happy (expletive) Halloween.” The user, who was not identified, added a purple devil Emoji to the message.

While hateful rhetoric has been on the rise in recent years, there’s something deeply unsettling about the recent, seamless transition of both of these men from social media vigilantes to real-life attackers. The internet has become a place for extremist, hateful people to grow, thrive and eventually strike.

Having a president who openly behaves erratically on social media and bolsters the behavior of those who misuse these platforms is disappointing to the American people. A 2018 PRRI survey of American values found that 54 percent of those surveyed believe that Trump’s behavior as president has encouraged white supremacist groups.

Violence and hate will always exist. But our country deserves a leader who will oppose this behavior and do his or her part to prevent it, rather than embolden those who seek to spread prejudice and anger.