Last week was bookended by two horrific attacks on religious worshipers attending holiday services. The reactions by the American right wing were quite different.
A week ago, conservative extremists were angry. After deadly Easter bombings at churches in Sri Lanka killed hundreds of worshippers on one of the holiest days in the Christian faith, some appeared to be upset by the sentence construction and word choice in the subsequent tributes.
In statements condemning the attacks and paying tribute to the victims, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro each used the term “Easter worshippers” to describe the victims of those attacks.
The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity. On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 21, 2019
On this holy weekend for many faiths, we must stand united against hatred and violence. I'm praying for everyone affected by today's horrific attacks on Easter worshippers and travelers in Sri Lanka.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 21, 2019
On a day of redemption and hope, the evil of these attacks on Easter worshippers and tourists in Sri Lanka is deeply saddening. My prayers today are with the dead and injured, and their families. May we find grace.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) April 21, 2019
Conservative critics were incensed. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed this was an attempt to avoid using the word “Christian.”
How do President Obama and Secretary Clinton both come up with Easter worshippers in their tweets about the murders in Sri Lanka? To have both of them use the same term the same day is strange. Is Easter Worshipper the left’s new way to avoid the word Christian? Pathetic
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) April 22, 2019
Fox News host Jesse Watters made a similar charge. “They didn’t use ‘Christians.’ They didn’t say ‘churches.’ They actually said ‘Easter worshippers’ were under attack. Now, you don’t call Muslims Ramadan-worshippers. You don’t call Jews Passover-worshippers. It’s a made-up phrase.”
Fox News hosts Brit Hume and Laura Ingraham, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, One America News Network host Jack Posobiec, Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk, radio host Dennis Praeger, and Breitbart’s Joel Pollak also joined the fray, suggesting that this phrase was some sort of anti-Christian slur.
Even Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor to President Donald Trump, slammed Obama and Clinton for the phrase in a CNN interview. “I think there’s anti-Christianity. That’s why the Sri Lankans were gunned down. They’re not Easter worshippers, Obama and Hillary Clinton. They are Christians,” she asserted.
Rep. Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez (D-NY) pointed out how silly this argument was, tweeting to Conway:
The terrorist attack in Sri Lanka was horrifying. Saying ‘Easter worshippers’ matters bc Easter is the holiest day of the year for Christians, & to be targeted on Easter highlights how heinous the attack was – just as saying yesterday’s #SanDiego shooting was on Passover.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 28, 2019
After a mass shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, on Saturday, the Times of Israel’s Jewish News Reporter site posted a story with a sub-headline “19-year-old armed with firearm launches attack against passover worshippers in California community.”
Indeed, some of Conway’s colleagues used similar language to express sympathies to the members of the Jewish community who had been observing Passover.
First Lady Melania Trump tweeted that she was “heartbroken” to hear about the “senseless shooting in a place of worship” on Passover.
On this last day of Passover, I was heartbroken to hear of another senseless shooting in a place of worship. My heart & prayers go out to all affected in the community.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) April 27, 2019
And Elan Carr, Trump’s recently-appointed Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, tweeted on Saturday that the “attack on Passover worshipers at Chabad of Poway is a monstrous act of evil.”
Today’s attack on Passover worshipers at Chabad of Poway is a monstrous act of evil. Lori Gilbert Kaye was murdered in cold blood. 8yr-old Noya Dahan, her uncle Almog Peretz, and Rabbi Goldstein were wounded. We pray for them and pledge to be relentless in fighting anti-Semitism. pic.twitter.com/0xaJTUeYKV
— U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (@USEAntiSemitism) April 28, 2019
As of publication, none of the people who were outraged by the term “Easter worshippers” have expressed similar outrage over these references to “Passover worshippers.”
Zack Ford contributed reporting to this story.