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Don’t Tell Me That ‘Both Sides’ Need to Do Better

Only the right is to blame — starting with President Trump and his complicit enablers in the Republican Party

Ellie Fleischer, 15, writes a note on the ground at a memorial near the Tree of Life Synagogue on Monday in Pittsburgh. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Ellie Fleischer, 15, writes a note on the ground at a memorial near the Tree of Life Synagogue on Monday in Pittsburgh. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

“Both sides” are not responsible for the horrific political terrorism we have seen this past week. Only the right is to blame — starting with President Trump and his complicit enablers in the Republican Party.

They have been playing with fire. It was inevitable that people would get burned.

Am I not supposed to blame Trump? Well, he blames me. After at least 14 mail bombs were sent to prominent Trump critics and 11 innocent worshipers were slaughtered in a Pittsburgh synagogue, this is what the pyromaniac in chief had to say Monday morning on Twitter:

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!”

Divert, deflect, attack. Drive the wedge deeper. This is what Trump does — it’s the only thing he knows how to do — and the damage he is inflicting will not easily be repaired.

On Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, Pittsburgh’s vibrant Squirrel Hill neighborhood became the site of the worst attack against Jews in U.S. history. A gunman reportedly toting a military-style assault rifle and three handguns barged into the Tree of Life synagogue and began firing, killing eight men and three women because they were Jews.

An attack of this kind somewhere in the world perhaps should not have been a surprise. Leaders of Jewish organizations have reported a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including hate crimes, not just in the United States but in Europe and elsewhere as well.

But the alleged assailant, a 46-year-old loner named Robert Bowers, appears to have had a specific delusionary complaint. From his social media postings, he seems to have bought into an insane white-supremacist conspiracy theory about Jews seeking to diminish the power and influence of American whites by promoting a flood of nonwhite immigrants. An organization called HIAS — founded in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to assist Jews fleeing European pogroms — was supposedly somehow involved.

How does this have anything to do with Trump?

Bowers apparently didn’t even like the president, believing him to be far too soft on immigration. But Bowers was fixated on the so-called caravan of Central American migrants, which Trump and the Republicans have cynically exploited to drive turnout in the midterm election. GOP candidates have portrayed the slow-moving column of asylum seekers — still about 1,000 miles from the border — as an imminent “invasion.” Trump actually used that word Monday in a tweet.

There is in fact no emergency, no invasion, no reason to panic. Trump and the Republicans helped convince Bowers otherwise.

The Pittsburgh massacre came one day after Cesar Sayoc, 56, was arrested for allegedly sending more than a dozen crude pipe bombs to high-profile critics of Trump, including former president Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., actor Robert De Niro and others.

Among the targets chosen by the alleged bombmaker was billionaire George Soros — who also features prominently in alleged shooter Bowers’s fantasyland as a purported financier of the nonwhite invasion.

Unlike Bowers, Sayoc is a fanatical supporter of Trump. The sides and windows of his van are plastered with pro-Trump stickers, including a picture of Clinton with the crosshairs of a gun scope on her face. On social media, Sayoc posted images of himself wearing a Make America Great Again cap at a Trump rally.

Sayoc was arrested two days after a gun-wielding man named Gregory Bush, 51, tried to force his way into an African American church near Louisville. When he could not get in, he went to a nearby grocery store, where he allegedly shot and killed two black customers at random. According to news reports, he told an armed white bystander who confronted him: “Please don’t shoot, and I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t kill whites.”

From the first day of his presidential campaign, Trump has whipped up anti-immigrant fervor and stoked racial animus. By obliterating normal boundaries of political speech, he has opened space for unapologetic advocates of white supremacy, anti-Semitism, misogyny and other biases to spew their venom.

And the GOP happily goes along.

Don’t tell me that “both sides” need to do better. Republicans who remain silent deserve to be swept out of office.

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Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson writes a regular column for The Washington Post.

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