Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Posts by alleged synagogue shooter show antisemitism at root of hatred

In this courtroom sketch, Robert Bowers, the suspect in the 2018 synagogue massacre, is on trial in federal court.
David Klug
In this courtroom sketch, Robert Bowers, the suspect in the 2018 synagogue massacre, is on trial in federal court on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial on Tuesday presented more than 300 posts and likes attributed to the account registered to defendant Robert Bowers.

The posts of the user “OneDingo'' displayed a wide range of hateful views towards Muslims, Black people, immigrants, communists, leftists and a variety of others. At the center of nearly every post was the antisemitic belief that Jewish people represented the biggest problem of all and that all of the other kinds of bigotry and racism Bowers espoused had, at their root, Jewish people.

During opening statements two weeks ago, Bowers' lawyer argued that Bowers appeared to have been motivated by animus towards HIAS, a refugee resettlement group, rather than hatred toward Jewish people specifically. Bowers posted about HIAS shortly before the shooting at the synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

But on Tuesday, prosecutors appeared to attack that idea directly, pointing to evidence that showed how HIAS itself is a Jewish organization and that Bowers’ views toward refugees appeared secondary to his views about Jewish people.

Evan Browne, a tactical analyst for the FBI, read through a series of posts that had been provided to prosecutors by Gab. Bowers' profile description said "Jews are the children of satan,” and Browne counted up the number of references to particular words in posts and reposts by Bowers.

Browne said Bowers used the words "refugee" nine times and "invaders" seven times. But he used the word "oven" 21 times, a slur for Jews 87 times and the word "Jews" 152 times. In the posts that Bowers’ account 'liked,' the word “refugee” appeared 58 times, but the word “Jew” appeared 2,372 times and a slur for Jews occurred 449 times.

The posts that Browne read aloud in court revealed a deeply conspiratorial view of the world, not all of which was consistent. Some posts denied that the Holocaust happened, and others argued that it had not gone far enough. Some posts argued that Jesus was not really a Jew, and others argued that he and his disciples were the only "good" Jews. Bowers' posts and likes also suggested that then-President Donald Trump was also a puppet of Jews, but they also invoked the "invasion" at the southern border that Trump had railed against.

Bowers’ Gab account had 385 followers. He posted on it 627 times and included a number of memes that included swastikas, Nazi flags, Holocaust references, pictures of Hitler and even house cats doing Nazi salutes. In addition, there were pictures of bullet holes at a shooting range and a number of posts that said the Jewish people should be killed. Bowers posted a picture of his three handguns in their cases several times.

During cross-examination by the defense, Browne testified that the list of 339 posts he presented in court Tuesday had been created through a “keyword” search of all of Bowers’ posts and didn’t include every post that he had posted, reposted or liked.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

A procedural objection

On Monday night, defense lawyers tried to throw a procedural wrench into the prosecution’s case. The defense filed a motion accusing the prosecution of disregarding a court order that prevented both the prosecution and defense from seeing the results of the prosecution’s psychological expert findings until after the guilt-portion of the trial is over. The defense said that prosecutors and FBI agents were present when the prosecution's expert interviewed four witnesses who testified to Bowers' mental state by telephone.

"By arranging for one of its trial lawyers and its case agent to be present during these interviews, the government has done precisely what it fought so hard and so successfully to prevent defense counsel from doing, i.e., access a portion of the expert’s evaluation process prior to the conclusion of the guilt phase of the trial," the defense motion reads.

The defense argued that this gave the government's prosecutors an unfair advantage because they would have heard the kinds of questions that the expert witness will speak to in his report before they are allowed to do so.

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville ordered the prosecution to file a response to the motion by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.