Bristle at the bluntness of the title of this post if you wish. But the chain of causation is clear.
I could never make the case as eloquently as others have, so I’ll quote them here.
First, Julia Ioffe, in How much responsibility does Trump bear for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh?, brings her own experience as a Jewish immigrant from Russia and the victim of vicious attacks from Trump’s rabid supporters to bear on the hate-inspired massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue:
After I published a profile of Trump’s third wife, Melania, that displeased her — and his supporters — the alt-right deluged me with anti-Semitic insults and imagery, culminating in clear death threats— such as an image of a Jew being shot execution-style or people ordering coffins in my name. When Trump was asked to condemn these attacks by his supporters, he said, “I don’t have a message” for them.
Culpability is a tricky thing, and politicians, especially of the demagogic variety, know this very well.
Unless they go as far as organized, documented, state-implemented slaughter, they don’t give specific directions. They don’t have to. They simply set the tone. In the end, someone else does the dirty work, and they never have to lift a finger — let alone stain it with blood. I saw it while reporting on Russia, where, after unexpected pro-democracy protests and the annexation of Crimea, Putin created an environment so vicious, so toxic (he called his critics “national traitors” and “a fifth column”) that, when assassins killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov at the foot of the Kremlin walls in 2015, it was easy for people to blame the divisive political rhetoric as if it were a spontaneous weather pattern, rather than Putin himself for creating it. And everyone understood immediately the message it sent: Dissent is a deadly business. Putin may not have ordered Nemtsov’s assassination, but Russia’s elite could clearly see he wasn’t too upset about the outcome.
When I was faced with the anti-Semitic rage of Trump supporters defending “Empress Melania,” I saw it clearly: Should Trump win the election, his followers — some of whom threw the word “k—” around as happily as they use the n-word — would be heartened and empowered, and they would quickly surpass the gas-chamber Twitter memes they were then deploying.
In the 2½ years that followed, Trump’s tune has become a deafening roar. The closing ad of his campaign reprised the kind of anti-Semitic tropes that populated “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”: “It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” Trump’s voice said, as pictures appeared of then-Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen (a Jew), billionaire progressive donor George Soros (a Jew) and then-Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (also a Jew). The ad was called “Donald Trump’s Argument for America.”
. . . A month after he had ordered his trolls to attack me, white supremacist Andrew Anglin told the HuffPost what he thought of Trump’s refusal to denounce them. “We interpret that as an endorsement,” he said. To his readers, he wrote, “Glorious Leader Donald Trump Refuses to Denounce Stormer Troll Army.” When Trump blamed “both sides” for Charlottesville, his supporters heard him loud and clear: “I knew Trump was eventually going to be like, meh, whatever,” Anglin said. “Trump only disavowed us at the point of a Jewish weapon. So I’m not disavowing him.” Many others in the alt-right praised Trump’s statement as moral equivocation on Charlottesville. To them, this, rather than the forced, obligatory condemnation, was the important signal. (According to the Anti-Defamation League, the incidence of anti-Semitic hate crimes jumped nearly 60 percent in 2017, the biggest increase since it started keeping track in 1979. What made 2017 so different? It was Trump’s first year in office.)
When Trump called himself a nationalist in Houston last week, the alt-right knew exactly what he meant. One alt-right commenter was elated because nationalism “is inherently connected to race.” Another wrote that he was “literally shaking” with glee. Still another wrote “THE FIRE RISES.”
The president did not tell a deranged man to send pipe bombs to the people he regularly lambastes on Twitter and lampoons in his rallies, so he’s not at fault. Trump didn’t cause another deranged man to tweet that the caravan of refugees moving toward America’s southern border (the one Trump has complained about endlessly) is paid for by the Jews before he shot up a synagogue. Trump certainly never told him, “Go kill some Jews on a rainy Shabbat morning.”
But this definition of culpability is too narrow, too legalistic — and ultimately too dishonest. The pipe-bomb makers and synagogue shooters and racists who mowed a woman down in Charlottesville were never even looking for Trump’s explicit blessing, because they knew the president had allowed bigots like them to go about their business, secure in the knowledge that, like Nemtsov’s killers, they don’t really bother the president, at least not too much. His role is just to set the tone. Their role is to do the rest.
Now, with that as background, turn to Adam Serwer of the Atlantic, who fills in the details of the case Ioffe so eloquently makes. In Trump’s Caravan Hysteria Led to This, Serwer explains:
Before committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at hias, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “hias likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
. . .
The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread and that his followers chose to amplify.
So there you have it. To stoke the anger of his right-wing base in the lead up to the mid-terms, Trump chose to rant dishonestly and incessantly about the so-called caravan from Honduras. As any moron could have predicted, Trump’s dishonest message lent credibility to the anti-Semitic vitriol of haters on the far right, who raged about Jewish sponsorship of immigrant “invaders.” Sure enough, a crazed killer, acting on the combined messages he’d received from Trump and Trump’s alt right base, took it upon himself to murder 11 innocent congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Let’s be clear, Trump did not commit murder. Trump’s actions don’t fit the legal definition of murder. He didn’t know in advance that his actions would lead directly to the killing of 11 innocent American Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
So, no, Trump didn’t commit murder.
But he may as well have. After all, he set in motion the chain of events that led to the murder of 11 innocent Americans by an enraged anti-Semite with an AR15. The end result was no different than if Trump had pulled the trigger of that AR15 himself.
Donald Trump, an American president with the blood of innocent Americans on his hands.