As we work to compete this edition of the Jewish World, we share feelings of grief, anger and confusion with Jews in Pittsburgh, the United States and around the world. Eleven older and elderly Jews — from the demographic that attends Shabbat services these days — were murdered at Tree of Life synagogue by a heavily-armed madman with a stated grievance against HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which he saw as aiding an “invasion” of immigrants to the U.S.
Specifically, the shooter, Robert Bowers, 46, posted a message on Gab, a relatively new social network favored by right-wing extremists, before committing carnage at the synagogue: “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.”
Bowers now faces the death sentence for his heinous crime.
In the aftermath of this imponderable tragedy, we can take some practical steps in the political realm to remediate the toxic political culture that has developed over the past two years. The rise of Donald Trump has upended norms of political discourse and behavior. Trump, who doesn’t do empathy, first blamed lax security at Tree of Life synagogue for the mass murder there. He didn’t offer condolences to the families of the victims; he went straight to NRA talking points. As the Jewish World goes to press, Trump was preparing to visit Pittsburgh, even as the mayor and civic leaders were urging him to postpone the visit until after the funerals took place.
There is a direct line between Trump’s recent profession that’s he’s a “nationalist” and his vilification and lies about refugees from Central America trying to enter the U.S., and the crazed gunman who shot up Tree of Life synagogue. Again, like his comrades in the fanatical white supremacist faction, Bowers sees Jews as target No. 1; these anti-Semites see Jews — led by George Soros — as manipulating a migrant “invasion” that will doom the “white race.” And they feel legitimized by the words and actions of the current inhabitant of the Oval Office.
Regarding practical action, I suggest voting now or on Nov. 6 for Democrats. The Republicans have besmirched their brand by their craven and cowardly support of Trump. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back to the liberal side and Democrats will take control of the U.S. House, which will be followed next year by meaningful investigations into the corruption and benighted policies of the current administration.
And many of us are especially worried about the race for Minnesota attorney general, a contest between DFLer Keith Ellison, who represents the Fifth District in Congress, and Doug Wardlow, one of the most extreme right-wing candidates we’ve seen in a statewide race. Wardlow as attorney general would be a disaster for Minnesota.
While Keith Ellison propounds a range of views that are shared by the vast majority of Jews in our state, Wardlow is an advocate for the Christian right agenda. He’s someone entirely in the political mold of Michele Bachmann. Wardlow has expressed his desire to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision, which guarantees women the right to safe and legal abortions. He cannot be trusted as attorney general to defend a woman’s right to choose.
In the area of LGBTQ rights, Wardlow, who represented the Eagan area in the state House, also is out of step with mainstream Jewish and Minnesota values. He is an opponent of gay rights and has litigated cases for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designates as an anti-LGBT hate group.
Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Donald Trump, the ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBT rights working with an ally in Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Recently, Wardlow was credibly accused of cruelly bullying some of his gay classmates at Eagan High School. Ryan Durant, a classmate of Wardlow at Eagan High, has come forward with his account of being bullied by Wardlow, who called him a “fag” and “faggot,” and said, “people like you should be shot,” according to an Oct. 27 article in the Pioneer Press. Wardlow denies all of these allegations; however, a former friend of Wardlow has admitted to participating in the bullying behavior. Other classmates have corroborated Durant’s claims or said that they, too, were bullied by Wardlow.
Keith Ellison has been a friend to the Minneapolis-area Jewish community since he was elected to Congress in 2006. He is a conscientious person we can trust to do a good job as Minnesota attorney general, as the people’s lawyer in St. Paul. He deserves our vote.
Mordecai Specktor editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(The views expressed here are those of the author only, and not those of the partners in Minnesota Jewish Media, LLC, parent company of the American Jewish World, or those of the newspaper’s staff.)
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.