USA TODAY US Edition
A year after Tree of Life massacre, Jews feel at risk
Anti-Semitic attacks continue; case is pending
Sunday’s public memorial in Pittsburgh on the one-year anniversary of a massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was planned as more than a commemoration of the 11 lives taken in that heinous attack.
It also was to be a reminder that threats against the Jewish community are ever-present, and if anything, they have grown.
Exactly six months after the mass murder in Pittsburgh, a gunman killed one person and injured three – including a rabbi – at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego.
Here’s where things stand a year after the Tree of Life tragedy, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack ever on U.S. soil:
What happened to the suspect?
Robert Bowers initially was indicted on 44 counts of killing 11 people and injuring seven in the assault, which left three police officers wounded. Bowers was later hit with another 19 criminal counts that included federal hate crime charges.
The former Pennsylvania truck driver, 47, is locked up at the Butler County Prison north of Pittsburgh, awaiting trial.
The initial indictment said Bowers entered the synagogue with several firearms, made statements about wanting to “kill Jews’’ and gunned down members of three congregations.
Pittsburgh police also said Bowers told them after his arrest that he “wanted all Jews to die’’ because he believed they “were committing genocide to his people.’’
Could he get the death penalty?
Federal and Pennsylvania prosecutors are seeking a death sentence against Bowers, arguing that he targeted worshippers at the synagogue, sought to terrorize Jewish communities and showed a lack of remorse for his actions. He had also displayed anti-Semitic tendencies online.
Capital punishment has not been applied at the federal level since 2003, but Attorney General William Barr announced its reinstatement in July, and the Department of Justice said on Aug. 26 that it would pursue the death penalty for Bowers.
Bowers’ defense team, composed of San Diego lawyer Judy Clarke and two public defenders, has said it would prefer to avoid a trial. Bowers offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors rejected the offer Oct. 15.
When will he be tried?
The case has bogged down in legal maneuvers between the defense and federal prosecutors, who argue they’re being stifled in their attempts to set a trial date, preferably for no later than September 2020.
Prosecutors have asked the judge to intervene and enter a scheduling order. In court papers, the defense called a September 2020 trial date “unrealistic.’’
Have anti-Semitic attacks increased?
A report released a week ago by the Anti-Defamation League said in its headline, “American Jews face significant threats.’’
According to the organization, which fights anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, white supremacists represent the biggest danger. At least 12 have been arrested and accused of having a role in plots, attacks or threats against the Jewish community over the past year. In that span, white supremacists targeted Jewish institutions at least 50 times, the ADL said.
The group’s tally of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. since 2009 shows a major spike in 2017 – from 1,267 to 1,986, with a substantial increase in physical assaults – before a small reduction to 1,879 incidents in 2018.
Seven hundred eighty incidents were reported in the first six months of this year, only five fewer than over the same period in 2018.
What events were planned?
There were several, highlighted by a public commemoration at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, where a vigil was held the day after the attack last year.
The Tree of Life building remains closed, and its fate is uncertain.
“We will reopen,’’ said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation. “We must reopen, because if we don’t, then evil wins, and we’re not letting it win on my watch.’’