Shooter focused on HIAS

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This image shows a portion of an archived webpage from the social media website Gab, with a Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 posting by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. HIAS, mentioned in the posting, is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. (AP Photo)

This image shows a portion of an archived webpage from the social media website Gab, with a Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 posting by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. HIAS, mentioned in the posting, is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. (AP Photo)

Synagogue shooter was obsessed with Jewish refugee agency


Associated Press

Tuesday, October 30

Just moments before the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead, the suspect is believed to have posted a final social media rant against a Jewish refugee settlement agency most people had never heard of, but which has increasingly become the target of right-wing rage and conspiracy theories.

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Robert Gregory Bowers wrote on the platform Gab early Saturday. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The group, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in 1881 in a Manhattan storefront to assist Jews persecuted in Russia and Eastern Europe. HIAS is now among nine groups that contract with the State Department to help refugees settle in the United States, and it has recently clashed with the Trump administration over policies that have throttled the flow of such newcomers.

Analysts who follow the extreme right say the fixation some extremists have with HIAS appears to be fueled by a mix of anti-Semitism and the recent caustic rhetoric about an immigrant caravan trudging slowly toward the United States.

Specifically, they believe Bowers ascribed to the “white genocide” conspiracy, which holds that Jews are prominent among the forces seeking to destroy the “white race” by bringing in non-white people. The account believed to be Bowers’ includes several recent postings or re-postings critical of HIAS.

“Who do they blame for these immigration policies? Who do they blame for diversity multi-culturalism? It’s the Jews,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “And so as a Jewish organization that is focused on issues of immigration, that’s one of the reasons they were targeted.”

Based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, HIAS has an annual operating budget of $42 million and receives about half of its money from the federal government. It has resettled refugees of different faiths from Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iran and elsewhere. Among the thousands of people it has aided are Google co-founder Sergey Brin and singer Regina Spektor.

As the Trump administration restricted the number of refugees allowed into the U.S., HIAS and its local affiliates went from resettling 4,191 refugees in 2016 to 1,632 for the fiscal year that just ended.

Though HIAS strongly supports the rights of asylum seekers to a fair hearing, it has no connection to the immigrant caravan, said spokesman Bill Swersey.

“We’re the people who go to the airport, that bring the refugees home, that make sure there’s food in the fridge, make sure their kids know where the school is,” said Melanie Nezer, HIAS’s senior vice president for public affairs.

But right-wing extremists see HIAS in a more sinister light.

Heidi Beirich, who directs the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said HIAS’s name comes up on white-supremacist message boards whenever posters become angry about refugees or immigrants. She noted that other resettlement agencies, such as those associated with Christian religions, have not raised the same sort of ire.

It happened toward the end of the Obama administration during the debate over Syrian refugees. Attention ratcheted up recently as President Donald Trump and others started drawing attention to the migrant caravan slowly making its way through Mexico toward the U.S. border.

Trump intensified his warnings about the caravan Monday, tweeting, “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

“White supremacists are ginned up right now,” Beirich said. “Their words are being echoed back to them by high-profile public figures.”

HIAS also has been public in its opposition to Trump’s immigration policies. It sued the administration in 2017 over the executive order halting refugee resettlement. In August, HIAS and the ADL led a delegation of national Jewish organizations to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Segal said the high-profile visit this summer could have drawn the attention of right-wing extremists.

As Bowers appeared in federal court in a wheelchair Monday, HIAS-affiliated offices across the country increased security.

Nezer said the group is still processing the tragedy.

“I think we need to redouble our efforts to stand up for these values and not cower and hide,” she said, “because to me that would be the most dangerous response.”

The Conversation

How Mister Rogers’ message of love might help us now

October 30, 2018

Author: Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University

Disclosure statement: Richard Gunderman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Indiana University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The Pittsburgh neighborhood in which the recent horrific mass shooting took place isn’t only the home of the Tree of Life synagogue. Squirrel Hill was also Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, the place where he lived and ultimately chose to die in his own home.

The irony is bitter indeed, because Fred McFeely Rogers, the beloved children’s television host who died in 2003, was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. Over the course of three decades on public broadcasting, he brought to millions of children what his faith’s General Assembly referred to as “unconditional love.”

In a documentary on Rogers released earlier this year, his widow reveals that this apostle of love struggled with evil in its many forms all his life. In his day as in ours, he knew that young people would be exposed to innumerable images of hatred through television and other media. To counteract it, Rogers took to the airways, encouraging people of all ages to accept themselves and each other. As he said in 1979, “My whole approach in broadcasting has always been, ‘You are an important person just the way you are.’”

Rogers was on to something – namely, that the world needs more love, and that each of us can play an important role in making the world a kinder place.

Love gave rise to a calling

Born in Pennsylvania in 1928, as a young minister Rogers regretted the messages television was conveying to children in the 1960s. He said, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted nationally in 1968 and won its creator and host many accolades, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Peabody Awards and over 40 honorary degrees.

Rogers believed that the need to love and be loved was universal, and he sought to cultivate these capacities through every program, saying in a 2004 documentary hosted by actor Michael Keaton, one of his former stagehands, “You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved and capable of loving.” It turns out that in encouraging people to love one another, Rogers was actually helping us take better care of ourselves.

Love and health

There are many ways in which love and kindness are good for health, especially in such difficult times. For one thing, they tend to reduce factors that undermine it. Doing something nice for someone causes the release of endorphins, which help to relieve pain. People who make kindness a habit have lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Intentionally helping others can even lower levels of anxiety in individuals who normally avoid social situations.

Carrying out acts of kindness, or even merely witnessing them, also increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone with health benefits as diverse as lowering blood pressure, promoting good sleep and reducing cravings for drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. Who wasn’t touched and uplifted by the news that one of the nurses treating the shooter is Jewish, and that the Jewish president of the hospital where he was treated stopped in to check on him?

That oxytocin should have so many health benefits is not so surprising when we recall its central role in stimulating uterine contractions during birth, the letdown of milk during lactation, the pleasure associated with orgasm and pair bonding.

Acts of generosity and compassion also appear to be good for mood. A 2010 study showed that while people with money tend to be somewhat happier than those without it, people who spend money on others report even greater levels of happiness, an effect that can be detected even in toddlers. When people give money to others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure are activated, and this response is greater when the transfer is voluntary rather than mandatory.

Such happiness can have big benefits in longevity. For example, a review of 160 published studies concluded that there is compelling evidence that life satisfaction and optimism are associated with better health and enhanced longevity. Another study of older people showed that, even after correcting for other factors such as age, disease and health habits, those who rated their happiness highest were 35 percent less likely to die in five years than those who were least content.

What would Mister Rogers say?

Of course, Rogers would remind us that there are reasons to be committed to love and kindness that extend far beyond their health benefits. Rogers was, after all, not a physician but a minister, and ultimately he was ministering to an aspect of human wholeness that cannot be analyzed by blood tests or visualized with CT scans. In a commencement address at Dartmouth College in 2002, he focused less on the body than what he might have called the spirit:

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

When Rogers encouraged children to be kinder and more loving, he believed that he was not only promoting public health but also nurturing the most important part of a human being – the part that exhibits a divine spark. As Rogers indicated in another commencement speech the year before at Middlebury College, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”

In expressing such deeply religious sentiments, Rogers was not trying to undermine a concern with bodily health. In fact, he regularly encouraged his viewers to adopt healthy life habits, and Rogers himself was a committed vegetarian and lifelong swimmer who maintained a low body weight his entire life. Yet he also believed that health alone does not a full life make, and he regarded the soundness of the body as but part of the wellness of whole persons and communities, which may explain why he was able to face his own mortality with such equanimity.

Rogers’ message could not be more relevant to a time of mass shootings driven by blind hatred. Just a few months before he died, Rogers recorded a message for the many adult fans who had grown up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In it, he practiced what he preached, saying:

“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article that was published June 8, 2018.

Opinion: A Moment of Truth Awaits Donald Trump

By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces his moment of truth in midterm congressional elections in November.

That’s when we’ll know whether his rhetoric, his hyperbolic utterances, his attacks on Democrats for just about everything, his defense of dictators, his policies on taxes, health care, alliances and treaties, really are working.

Strategists for the Democratic Party see the elections for 35 of 100 senators, each of whom serve six-year terms, and for two-year terms for all 435 members of the House of Representatives, as a chance to take over both houses of Congress. For sure, if they succeed as they hope, there will be an outcry for his impeachment and ouster for what many see as Trump’s impetuous, reckless policies.

Republican Party strategists, however, are counting on the millions of working-class, middle-Americans who voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election to stand by him in this crucial test of his popularity and power. Just as so many of the experts were proven wrong in their forecasts of victory for Hillary Clinton two years ago, so they may also be shocked to discover that Trump still holds the same appeal across America.

Or so the Republicans hope. Actually, however, GOP candidates are encountering widespread discontent over Trump’s policies, ranging from taxation reform that enriches the rich to his attacks on the Affordable Care Act — the legacy of his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama.

Those issues undoubtedly count for more among typical American voters than some of the foreign policy questions that also are extremely controversial. At the top of that list would be his seeming defense of ruthless dictators, including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salmon, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Much as Trump would like to accept the Saudi explanation that the thugs who killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi were acting on their own, nobody’s buying that story.

Trump is having a hard time exonerating Salman when most people are convinced he ordered the murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The fact that Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen but an American resident, was criticizing Saudi rule as a columnist for the Washington Post has given the case such a high profile that it may not blow away as Salman and Trump would like.

Then there’s North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un. Voters have pretty well forgotten about him, for the moment, while accepting Trump’s claim to have solved the problem of “denuclearization,” or at least to be on the way to doing so. A second Trump-Kim summit, which may be held after the midterm elections, will undoubtedly put the North back in the headlines, but for now North Korea really isn’t an issue.

To avoid a Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress, Trump is campaigning with a kind of desperation. He’s appearing at rallies of the faithful across the country, appealing to the instincts of voters worried about illegal immigrants from Central America pouring across the border with Mexico, campaigning on the growth of the economy, denouncing the Democrats for anything that goes wrong.

Domestically, however, Trump also faces the problem of the extent to which a revised affordable health care plan would cover “pre-existing conditions.”

Candidates for Congress are speaking out about the need to be sure any revision of Obama’s health care act forces reluctant insurance companies to cover treatment for those who have been treated previously for whatever ails them. The insurance companies count on Trump to take their side just as he’s done by lowering taxes and calling for higher tariffs on imports from countries, notably China, that he blames for inundating American markets, inflicting harm on business and labor alike.

It’s easy to speculate that conservatives in favor of increasing military expenditures but against collecting the taxes needed to cover the bills will shock everyone by doing well November 6.

Right now, however, Trump remains well behind in popularity polls. He can be thankful that the Democrats really don’t have a compelling national leader who captures mass imagination. Those who are mentioned — the genial Joe Biden, a former vice president, and two senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and women’s favorite Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — just don’t measure up in the minds of many calling for “Dump Trump.”

Interestingly, Trump may even have gained popularity by headline-grabbing extended hearings for Senate approval of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice after several women claimed he committed sexual misbehavior against them while in their teens. Since Kavanaugh was approved and sworn in as a justice, that tale has receded.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, though, may be a lot more difficult to forget, and it may have repercussions on U.S. foreign policy. The United States counts on Saudi Arabia as an ally against Iran, a regional threat with close ties to North Korea, from which it imports missiles and other armaments. Then there’s the rising threat of China, North Korea’s only real ally, the source of oil and other vital supplies that get into the North despite sanctions, and the failure to get Kim Jong-un to begin getting rid of his nukes.

If both houses of the Congress are not on his side, Trump may limp through the second half of his four-year term as a lame duck fending off impeachment and unlikely to be re-elected in 2020. But one lesson of 2016 is that he may do better than many of the pundits imagine.


Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for

Opinion: Cities Should Stop Slowing Down America’s 5G Revolution

By Jessica Melugin

The Federal Communications Commission recently approved a proposal to speed up deployment for the next generation of wireless service, known as 5G. The plan puts states and localities on a shot clock for approving installments and caps fees at rates that compensate them for their troubles, but don’t allow them to extract a profit.

Less red tape will ensure that consumers have access to America’s next era of innovation, with virtual reality, 4K video, self-driving cars, remote surgeries and more.

The new wave of 5G devices and applications will require a major network upgrade. Increased data demands a denser network infrastructure than currently exists. This means more and smaller radio access nodes located closer together, known as small cells. Experts predict that installing the hundreds of thousands of small cells needed to support the 5G revolution will cost approximately $200 billion.

That capital investment is enormous and there are still technical challenges to overcome — such as eliminating interference from trees, weather and man-made structures. But the FCC’s plan solves one major roadblock: excessive fees from local and state governments looking to use the 5G rollout as an ATM.

Some local and state officials have wisely called on the FCC to streamline the approval process for small cell deployment. In a letter to the FCC, the mayor of Sterling Heights, Michigan, wrote, “There are significant, tangible benefits to having a nationwide rule that promotes the deployment of next generation wireless access without concern that excessive regulation or small cell siting fees slows down the process.”

But there are plenty of examples of officials trying to game the system to fill the public coffers. Crown Castle, America’s largest provider of wireless infrastructure, recently claimed that Newport Beach, California, adopted an annual charge of $10,800 per small cell site. That price is completely out of line with the rates of states that have already acted to limit their fees for wireless attachments: Florida and Rhode Island at $150 per attachment and Ohio at $200. Newport Beach politicians seem to be acting in the short-term interest of their city’s bank account, not in the long-term interests of their residents.

The political impulse to prioritize profits over progress is why the FCC must intervene in order for the United States to win the 5G race. The Wall Street Journal quoted former FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell that being slow to 5G puts “the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage globally.” The article explains that if “the U.S. hadn’t led the way of 4G, the country might not dominate mobile technology, and its platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and perhaps even Facebook and Netflix might not have become global powers.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr hopes that his agency’s efforts to reduce state and local obstacles will “reduce the regulatory costs of small cell deployment by 80 percent, cut months off deployment timelines, and incentivize thousands of new wireless deployments.”

The 5G speeds will be at least 10 times faster than the current 4G standard, and a report from the American Consumer Institute found that consumer benefit from 5G will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The stakes are too high to let meddling local and state politicians extract their pound of flesh.

The FCC’s plan will allow companies to complete deployment of this new infrastructure quickly and efficiently. The least government can do is get out of the way.


Jessica Melugin is the associate director of the Center for Technology & Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington. She wrote this for

This image shows a portion of an archived webpage from the social media website Gab, with a Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 posting by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. HIAS, mentioned in the posting, is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. (AP Photo) image shows a portion of an archived webpage from the social media website Gab, with a Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 posting by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. HIAS, mentioned in the posting, is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. (AP Photo)
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