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Pittsburgh Killer Must Pay The Ultimate Price

Nearly five years after murdering eleven Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, Robert Bowers has finally gone on trial.

Bowers, 50, perpetrated his atrocity on October 27, 2018. A neo-Nazi who had blasted Jews in a litany of loathsome social media posts, he fervently believed that Jews were “killing our people” by welcoming refugees to the United States.

In line with other fascists, he subscribed to the demographic notion that white Christian Americans were being “replaced” by non-Christian migrants of color who were taking over the country at the expense of its original Anglo-Saxon inhabitants.

White supremacists of his ilk are the chief proponents of this apocalyptic theory. In 2017, hundreds of them marched through the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace use.”

Bowers, who has spent the last few years in prison, faces 63 federal charges. They include eleven counts of hate crimes resulting in death and eleven counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death.

As expected, federal government prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Bowers. According to reports, his trial essentially will be a hearing to determine whether he should face execution.

The lawyers representing Bowers do not dispute the facts of the case, concurring that he killed eleven people and caused “extraordinary harm to many, many people.” Judy Clarke, one of his lawyers, has described the vicious attack as a senseless tragedy and acknowledged that he had posted “reprehensible” comments online.

Clarke and her colleagues are prepared to resolve the case with guilty pleas on all counts in exchange for a lesser sentence — life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Federal prosecutors, however, have rejected their offer and intend to call for the death penalty.

Let’s be clear. Bowers richly deserves to pay the ultimate price for his abominable crime.

As prosecutor Soo Song said in her opening statement, Bowers was consumed by hatred when he approached the Tree of Life shul on that terrible day. Heavily-armed, he “moved methodically through the synagogue to find the Jews he hated so much” and callously murdered them one by one rather than in a spray of bullets.

Such was his “malice and hate,” she noted.

Make no mistake. This was a premeditated crime. From the start, Bowers had every intention of ruthlessly killing innocent people simply because they were Jewish. He was not content with posting filthy antisemitic screeds online. He went one step further with his madness and embarked on a murderous binge.

Bowers’ lawyers will argue that he does not deserve to die, possibly because he suffers from mental ailments. But it would be a miscarriage of justice if he is allowed to die a natural death in jail.

Countless Americans have been executed for a single murder. Bowers has the blood of eleven victims on his hands.

Bowers bears a striking resemblance to Nazi war criminals who were executed for complicity in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. These Nazis were desk murderers in the sense that they ordered the killings of Jews carried out by others. By contrast, Bowers was personally involved in the evil rampage in Pittsburgh, which adds heft to the argument that no less a sentence than death will be acceptable.

Bowers snuffed out the lives of eleven men and women, and he must pay dearly for his violence. At the very least, the federal government must use this horrendous case as an example that racist violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com