The nation’s heart was broken once again by the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman burst in with an AR-15 and killed 11 Jewish men and women during their Sabbath worship. Later, Robert Gregory Bowers told police, “I just want to kill Jews.”
Such an incident would be dismaying enough if it happened in isolation. But it comes amid a rising wave of domestic terrorism, stoked by the fear and hatred that has turned too many Americans against one another. Just days ago pipe bombs were sent to prominent American political figures, including former President Barack Obama. A gunman in Kentucky shot two elderly African-Americans in a supermarket and reportedly warned an armed white bystander not to interfere because “Whites don’t kill whites.”
Fear and division are like a virus that grows stronger as it spreads. Those in its grip feel emboldened and justified in their actions, taking their cues from the hate all around. President Donald Trump has condemned the synagogue shootings and called for the country to come together against such acts, but also has continued to foment division and fear at his rallies and elsewhere.
If there is a bright spot in all this, it is that everyday citizens are deciding on their own to reject messages of hate. In Minnesota, gratifyingly, a memorial for Pittsburgh’s victims turned into a triumph of humanity and decency, as more than 1,500 Minnesotans of all faiths gathered at Temple Israel to mourn the deaths of victims they’d never met, and to recommit to peace. A grass-roots crowdfunding campaign by Muslim Americans generated more than $125,000 for victims of the synagogue shooting within a day.
Individuals may feel powerless at times like these. They are not. These acts of faith and good will, multiplied a thousandfold across this nation, show that ordinary citizens are capable of rising above their leaders, of setting the examples that can counter ugly political discourse and stop the contagion.