The week of October 22 was a week in which three men committed acts of right-wing, white supremacist terrorism, with two of them committing race-based murder against innocent victims. Two of the individuals murdered 13 people between them, but the incident in which Black lives were lost has received scant-to-cursory attention at best, lending credence to the notion that Black lives are viewed as less important in American society.
White Louisville resident Gregory Bush, 51, is accused of gunning down Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69, both of whom were Black, in a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, on October 24. Prior to the murders, the gunman reportedly attempted to enter a Black church, but was unable due to the church’s security. Bush allegedly told a witness, “whites don’t kill whites.”
Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs via the mail to Democratic leaders, a media organization and opponents of Trump, and reportedly had a list of over 100 potential targets. And Robert Bowers, a man who harbored hatred against Jews and immigrants on the far-right corners of social media, faces 29 charges for shooting 11 people to death in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, in what is described as the largest mass shooting of Jewish Americans in history.
While federal prosecutors are investigating the Kroger killings as a possible hate crime, there has been some reluctance to name it as such, with local officials claiming there was no motive. Media has focused on the alleged schizophrenia, mental illness struggles and lone wolf status of the assailant, in an attempt to downplay his racist and political motivations. Also mentioned were his history of domestic violence against his Black ex-wife. In contrast, Bowers was immediately charged with murder and hate crimes, with much focus on his ideology, including a hatred for HIAS, a Jewish agency helping refugees from Africa, Latin America and the Arab world, and the conspiracy theory that the organization was bringing people to the U.S. to commit crimes. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Bowers posted on Gab. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
People have taken to social media to comment on the disparate treatment of the Kroger and Pittsburgh shootings, and the invisibility of the Black victims in Kentucky:
“My honest opinion it is not getting coverage for that very reason because they are black that is further proof that black people in this country do not matter.”
“The family of Ms. Vickie Jones, one of the victims of the #krogershooting here in Louisville is trying to raise $10,000 for family members to attend the funeral. Her brother also died 2 weeks ago so the family is going through. Give what you can. https://t.co/737ULNOJOO”
“The shooter in Pittsburgh is being charged with a hate crime but Kentucky hasn’t charged the white guy who killed 2 elderly black people with a hate crime yet for the #krogershooting. What are y’all waiting on?”
“The Kroger murders were largely overlooked by media in past week as there was such an effort underway to downplay the racist motives of mail bomber. Now there’s this strained effort to describe anti-Semitism as something other than racism, disconnected from white supremacy”
Apparently, Trump — who has called for the death penalty in the Pittsburgh case, visited the city on Tuesday and claimed the synagogue should have had armed guards — has not commented on the Kroger murders. However, he did pledge his support for Republican Rep. Andy Barr representing Kentucky’s 6th District in Lexington: “Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky, who just had a great debate with his Nancy Pelosi run opponent, has been a winner for his State. Strong on Crime, the Border, Tax Cuts, Military, Vets and 2nd Amendment, we need Andy in D.C. He has my Strong Endorsement!”
Meanwhile, white right-wing voices, while ignoring the Kroger murders, have also attempted to erase white supremacy, and specifically downplay a white supremacist as the cause of the synagogue shooting, opting instead to put a Black face on antisemitic violence. For example, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch placed the blame not on white supremacists, but on leftists and Minister Louis Farrakhan:
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) October 29, 2018
In an analysis on the white face of anti-Semitism, anti-racism educator and speaker Tim Wise said the “shifting of attention from right-wing, white bigotry and anti-Semitism to Farrakhan is a predictable pivot and one the right has deployed consistently for over thirty years, ever since Farrakhan became their all-purpose bogeyman. It’s also a deflection marinated in false equivalence, historically contextual ignorance, and supreme bad faith.” Wise added that the source of any Black antipathy towards Jews lies in the “adopted whiteness” of Jews who have assimilated and lost touch with marginalized and oppressed peoples.
Naftali Bennett, the right-wing Israeli Minister of Diaspora affairs, invoked the Palestinians in Gaza and Hamas militants rather than white supremacist terrorism when he visited Pittsburgh. “From Sderot to Pittsburgh, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head. And we will prevail,” he said at a Pittsburgh vigil. Bennett was a force behind the expulsion of thousands of African asylum seekers from Israel, who are known by the offensive term infiltrators. He said that “granting legal status to 16,000 infiltrators will turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators.”
Israel’s ruling Likud party emailed talking points to its members blaming the synagogue mass shooting on the victims for promoting HIAS, which the party characterized as a left-wing anti-Trump organization that promotes immigration. Yoav Eliasi, a Likud member and hate rapper known as The Shadow, justified Bowers’ killing spree, which he said was a reaction to the “sick agendas” of progressive Jewish leftists. “HIAS brings in infiltrators that destroy every country. The murderer was fed up with people like you. Jews like you brought the holocaust and now you’re causing antisemitism. Stop bringing in hate money from Soros,” he said, echoing the white supremacist sentiment of the killer.
A white supremacist terrorist murdered 11 Pittsburgh Jews at prayer yesterday because their synagogue supports refugees. Yet Israeli activists from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party say the murderer “DREW INSPIRATION from a left-wing Jewish group that promoted immigration to the US” pic.twitter.com/IN1Sg0YaHF
— David Sheen (@davidsheen) October 28, 2018
Hannah Sassaman connected the dots between the Sabbath murder of Jews to other innumerable acts of white supremacy, noting the massacre is “structurally tied” to the Kroger murders and the 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. “Jews can’t meaningfully challenge antisemitism without challenging white supremacy as a whole,” Sassaman said, underscoring the need for people to come together to organize, vote and fight racism, poverty and oppression to get through these hard times. “To end antisemitism and its murderous fruits today and in the future, we must remember how all these struggles are tied together, and face them with open eyes, and with a commitment to — as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. framed it —bending the arc of the moral universe towards a complete and universal peace and justice.”
In a seething commentary in The Forward, Lesley Williams, an African-American Jew, had a message for his white Jewish friends, who in his view cared little about the “cold blooded murder” of two Black people in Kentucky and offered little more than the “polite sympathy of outsiders.”
“A Jewish community that sincerely valued its Jews of Colors would have reacted with equal passion and sorrow to the black deaths in Louisville last week. Where were the supportive calls to your black Jewish friends, the counseling offers, the sobbing, the anger? Did you even notice?” Williams asked. “Did it ever occur to you that the rage and terror you are experiencing today is how I have felt my entire life? It is not only that you have largely ignored the anguish of your black community members, it’s that you have once again directed the focus and outrage away from anti black racism and centered it on yourselves.” Williams added that while Nazi symbols evoke past trauma for Jews, they represent a “terrifying, traumatic, unending present” for Black people. “White Jews may be shocked at this undeniable evidence of US racism; African Americans merely see more of the same. Black people did not need to be reminded by hoods and swastikas that we live in a dangerously racist country.”
A deadly week of bomb threats and racially-motivated mass shootings revealed that even in the face of white supremacist violence, the Black victims of said violence are rendered invisible, while the white supremacy itself is obfuscated and blame on the part of white supremacists is deflected.