The Akron Beacon Journal

This time it happened in Pittsburgh, a man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle, shouting anti-Semitic slurs and opening fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday morning. Soon 11 were dead, eight men and three women with six others injured. Mayor Bill Peduto called the attack the "darkest day" in the city’s history. The FBI agent in charge described the scene as "the most horrific" in his 22 years with the bureau.

The country has been here before, many times, sadly. Recall the nine African-American worshippers gunned down in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist. Or the man who attempted to enter the predominantly black First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, Ky., on Wednesday, found the doors locked and ended up shooting and killing two black customers at a supermarket. He reportedly said afterward, "Whites don’t kill whites."

In moments so chilling, all of us do well to hold close one thing that distinguishes our country — tolerance, especially for religious beliefs, affirmed in the First Amendment. Here you can practice freely your faith, and that has been the reality, religions of all kinds flourishing.

Thus, if such violence is devastating in any case, it is particularly so when the attack is driven by hatred for a people, race or religion. The man responsible for the slaughter in Pittsburgh expressed viciously anti-Semitic views on social media, including images of neo-Nazis and ovens like those used in Nazi concentration camps. He engaged in conspiracy theories, the Holocaust portrayed as a hoax and Jews described as an "infestation."

Before the shooting, he apparently posted about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which long has assisted immigrants and refugees seeking entry: "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."

Anti-Semitism is old, built around the conspiracy theory that Jews, a tiny minority, are most powerful, evil and controlling, the "other" somehow angling to command what belongs to the majority, whether white, Christian, Arab or Muslim. Anti-Semitism doesn’t have the presence it once did, but it is still here. If that is much more the case in Europe and the Middle East, the Anti-Defamation League reports anti-Semitic incidents here increased dramatically last year. ...

...This is the climate in which a man mails pipe bombs to perceived political villains, including former presidents, an act that preceded the killings in Pittsburgh and alone offers cause to pull back and ask hard questions. Now the toll in the synagogue reinforces the need. In each case, one man is responsible, and the country will learn more about why. Yet this is a moment for examining who we are, whether the subject is gun regulation or the principles and values that guide us.

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