Robert Bowers, who was identified as the gunman who opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, reportedly killing 11 people and injuring others before being taken into custody, had a history of promoting anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant conspiracies and had called in the past to exterminate the Jews.
Bowers, a 46-year-old resident of Pittsburgh, is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, in the city and began firing.
He engaged in a shootout with responding police officers and barricaded himself inside the building before reportedly surrendering. Police say he was injured and crawling when he was taken into custody.
The suspect is in “fair condition” with multiple gunshot wounds, and is being treated at Allegheny General Hospital, according to Pittsburgh’s public safety director.
Bowers was an active poster on the social network Gab, which is considered by many to be a hub of the alt-right.
In the description on his account, Bowers wrote “jews are the children of satan.” The cover photo featured the neo-Nazi symbol “1488.” The first two numbers refer to the white supremacist “14 Words” slogan, while “88” stands for “Heil Hitler” since “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Being very clear for media picking this up, this man Robert Bowers was named on police scanner, found his profile, last post was this and his social media account was wiped while I was archiving it. His account was anti-Semitic conspiracies and anti-Trump posts/conspiracies. pic.twitter.com/uRNfWAEWLW
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 27, 2018
Bowers last reported post read: “HIAS likes to bring invaders to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
HIAS is an American-Jewish nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and immigrants. Shortly after the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, Bowers’ Gab account was deleted.
— KDKA (@KDKA) October 27, 2018
In another post reported by The New York Times Bowers said he did not care for President Donald Trump, because he “is a globalist, not a nationalist.”
Using a slur for Jews, he said, “There is no #MAGA, as long as there is a k— infestation.” MAGA refers to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.
Among his recent posts, Bowers posted a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews, writing the caption “Make Ovens 1488F Again.”
But in other posts he also featured memes containing false conspiracy theories suggesting the Holocaust — in which an estimated 6 million Jews perished — was a hoax.
Gab released a statement saying it had “zero tolerance” for violence or terrorism and was “saddened and disgusted by the news” from Pittsburgh.
Gab said in a post that after learning of the attack, it had matched the name of the alleged shooter to the holder of its account.
It then took down the Bowers account and immediately contacted the FBI, adding, “We will do everything in our power to work with law enforcement to see that justice is served.”
Bowers is described as a white male, heavy-set, with a beard, KDKA-TV reported.
Bob Jones, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, said law enforcement authorities believe he was acting alone but had not identified his full motive.
Bowers has a license to carry a firearm and has made at least six firearm purchases since 1996, CNN reported, quoting a law enforcement official.
The station said he posted pictures of his gun collection online.
Authorities said Bowers was armed with an assault rifle and at least three handguns when he burst into the Tree of Life synagogue.
The Department of Justice said it will file hate crime and other criminal charges against Bowers, who could face the death penalty.
The Tree of Life Synagogue is about five miles (eight kilometers) east of downtown Pittsburgh in the residential Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Pittsburgh’s Public Safety department, which includes the police, declared earlier that an active shooter was in the area near the synagogue, urging residents to stay away.
Michael Eisenberg, past president of the Tree of Life synagogue, told CNN that the door would typically have been open on Saturdays with religious services going on. He said police are normally deployed only on High Holy Days — the holiest annual Jewish religious holidays.
He said security was a “major concern” during his stint as president, and active shooting situations and active shooter training were conducted, “if something horrific like this happened.”
The motive of the shooting was not immediately confirmed, but anti-Semitism and hate crimes have been on a rise in the United States in recent years.
On Friday, Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, published an op-ed in the Washington Post newspaper decrying a rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Such episodes nearly doubled last year, reflecting a nationwide spike in anti-Semitism, when incidents increased 57 percent, to 1,986, from 1,267, according to the ADL.
Squirrel Hill has historically been the center of Jewish life in the greater Pittsburgh and is home to 26 percent of all Pittsburgh-area Jewish households, according to a study from Brandeis University.
More than 80 percent of the neighborhood’s residents said they had some concern or were very concerned about rising anti-Semitism, found the 2017 study.
The Tree of Life congregation was founded more than 150 years ago and in 2010 merged with the five-year-old Or L’Simcha congregation.