News of the Pittsburgh Massacre began to filter through at lunch time: first as garbled WhatsApp and Facebook messages, then as a news alert from the BBC News app, and finally in the form of a constantly updated, rolling news page on the websites of every newspaper.
What shocked me most was how little shock I felt. This was the worst massacre of Jews on American soil that has ever taken place. But it simply didn’t feel unexpected.
Antisemitism is a conspiracy theory that sits at the meeting point between the hatreds of the far Left and the far Right, the Islamist and the Christian Jew-hater. It is the dark, suppressed secret within our common culture, the vicious mirror of the Jewish belief that what Jews do and do not do has implications for the world as a whole. Or, to put it another way, that Jews are behind everything that happens.
Within an hour, we all had seen a copy of Robert Bowers’ social media postings. There was simply nothing in it to surprise. They consisted of a litany of conspiracy theories, all of them familiar. America is ruled by the Zionist Occupation Government. Political choice is an illusion, because Jews control it all. Trump is a ‘globalist’ who is a tool of the Jews. And, repeatedly: Jews are seeking to destroy America, by bringing in immigrants.
Three weeks earlier, Bowers posted this:
“Open your Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!
Stop the kikes then Worry About the Muslims!”
A recurring theme in his more recent postings was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: a Jewish organisation which provides humanitarian assistance to refugees, and which had organised a National Refugee Shabbat the week before. Shortly before the massacre, Bowers posted the following message:
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Then there was the Nazi stuff. Bowers’ social media page header proudly displays a photograph of a gun chronograph showing the numbers “1488”, which represents the 14-word phrase coined by David Lane of The Order, a white supremacist paramilitary organisation: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”. ‘88’ is neo-Nazi code which stands for “Heil Hitler”. Elsewhere on his page, Bowers’ had posted a picture of a blazing oven with the caption: “Make Ovens 1488ºF Again”.
1488 is the watchword of those who opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and of Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshippers at a black church in Charlestown. Although the victims were not Jews, the fourteen words and the salute to Hitler is rooted in Nazi conspiracism, in which the Jews, ultimately, pull the strings.
Not a single word of Bowers’ social media surprised me at all. I’ve seen it all before. It isn’t just because I work for a counter-extremism organisation. Most Jews have encountered antisemitic thought on social media threads discussing immigration, media ownership, Israel/Palestine, the financial crisis, and a range of other topics.
Nor did it take me by surprise that this hatred resulted in a slaughter. Every Jewish venue in Britain is protected at all times by guards. In most of Europe, those guards are armed. When I go to prayers, there is somebody there to check the bag which I shouldn’t really be carrying on the Sabbath. During services, I wonder whether this will be the day which ends in a bloodbath. I look at my family, at my father, at my children and nephews and wonder whether they would run to save themselves in time, and what their escape route would be.
Hatred fuelled by conspiracism, and the resultant inevitability of physical attacks have now become an expectation for Jews. We are mentally prepared.
It is a tragedy that this is so.