The suspect in Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue outside San Diego, California, was cut from the same anti-immigrant cloth as other prominent white supremacist mass shooters — holding the belief that Jewish people are responsible for “replacing” white Americans with non-white immigrants and refugees.
According to witnesses, the gunman stormed into the Chabad of Poway synagogue with an AR-15-style weapon yelling anti-Semitic slurs. The one fatality, Lori Kaye Gilbert, lost her life by shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the line of fire. Three others were injured.
The 19-year-old suspect surrendered himself to authorities shortly thereafter, leaving behind a digital trail riddled with white nationalist and Neo-Nazi detritus that has become all too common in recent tragedies at places of worship, like the shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month and the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last year. All three attacks are rooted in the false — but popular — belief among white nationalists that non-white immigrants and refugees in the United States are actively attempting to “replace” white Americans.
The Poway shooting suspect’s reported manifesto called non-white immigrants “useful puppets for the Jew in terms of replacing [w]hites.” The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was also strategically chosen by the shooter for its long history of supporting Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees from across Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. And while, the Christchurch shooter made Islamaphobic remarks in his manifesto before murdering 50 people and injuring 50 others at a mosque, the root of his hatred was, as conservative Australian senator and white nationalist sympathizer Fraser Anning put it, “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.” The Poway suspect makes it very clear that he was inspired by the New Zealand mosque shooter. “He showed me that it could be done,” he wrote.
At the core of the white nationalist movement is the anxiety of “the great replacement,” a conspiracy theory that posits Jews, black people, and Muslims will ultimately replace white people and force them into subordination. Jews are viewed by those who ascribe to these set of beliefs as the master manipulators behind this elaborate plan, trafficking in non-white immigrants and refugees.
It’s why the white nationalists who gathered at Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 clutched tiki torches and loudly declared, “Jews will not replace us,” and why Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) blamed billionaire Democratic donor George Soros for organizing the migrant caravans from Central America.
“BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time,” Gaetz tweeted last fall. “Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!”
The video was repeatedly debunked and Soros’ organization has declined any involvement in organizing the migrant caravans. That hasn’t prevented President Donald Trump from continuing to dogwhistle using this myth.
“A lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by Election Day, because they think that’s a negative for us,” Trump said at a rally last October. “They have lousy policy. The one thing, they stick together, but they wanted that caravan and there are those that say that caravan didn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen.”
Whether by banning individuals from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States or separating families at the border, Trump has positioned his administration to be one of the most fiercely anti-immigrant entities in the modern era. During this time period, hate crimes against the immigrant community have skyrocketed.
Immediately after the election, there were a string of hate crimes targeting people of color. An Asian American woman in Hollywood, California, had her hair pulled by an older white woman and was told that she had to “go back to China” now that Trump is president. This pattern continued into his presidency. In February 2017, for example, a Kansas man yelled, “Get out of my country,” before opening fire at a restaurant, killing an Indian immigrant. The following month, two women wearing hijabs were violently attacked in Los Angeles and Milwaukee.
According to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 39 of the 50 extremist-related murders the group tallied in 2018 were committed by white supremacists. A collaboration between reveal and ProPublica found that of the 150 hate crimes detailed in their database, 75 were attacks on immigrants.