Subscribe
News | TD originals

Associated Press Blames Shooting Victims, Synagogue's Open Doors

People support each other at a makeshift memorial at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Matt Rourke / AP)

After President Trump blamed the congregation at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were shot and killed by an anti-Semitic gunman on Saturday, for not having armed guards, The Associated Press followed suit. In a tweet, the AP insinuated that the victims were somehow responsible for the attack by leaving the sanctuary doors unlocked, critics said.

Some social media users said that the tweet, which said that the shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, “exploited doors that were unlocked,” unfairly blamed the victims.

The article that the AP tweet was referencing also included a mention of unlocked doors, which was later removed. The article originally read: “During the week, anyone who wanted to get inside Tree of Life synagogue had to ring the doorbell and be granted entry by staff because the front door was kept locked. Not so on Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—when the building was open for worship.” This carried the implication that perhaps the congregation members could have saved themselves.

Trump said Saturday: “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of protection within the temple it could have been a much better situation. They didn’t. … This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside they may have been able to stop him immediately, maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him maybe.”

A series of packages containing pipe bombs that Cesar Sayoc is accused of sending to several high-profile Democrats and activists also sparked deflection and victim-blaming from the far right.

Trump accused the media of trying to “score political points” in its coverage, even though CNN received packages at its New York office addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, both CNN contributors.

“Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing,” said conspiracy theorist Rush Limbaugh about the packages. “Remember every mass shooting there is, the Democrats in the media try to make everybody think right off the bat that some Tea Partier did it, or some talk radio fan did it or some Fox News viewer did it. Turns out it’s never, ever the case.”

NPR correspondent Debbie Elliott noted that during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, black people were often blamed by authorities for bombings of their homes and churches.

Diane McWhorter, a historian, added, “The understood motive was that blacks were bombing their own churches and buildings in order to raise money and get publicity for the movement.”

Historian Taylor Branch cited another example of victim blaming in Mississippi in 1964. “Three of the Civil Rights workers were kidnapped by a sheriff’s posse of Klansmen and murdered, and, because the bodies weren’t found, Mississippi officials denied that that segregationists could have done this crime,” Branch said. “First of all, they said there was a hoax. Sen. James Eastland even told that to the president [Lyndon Johnson] on the phone.”

Jewish people have also been blamed for their own tragedies. In 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said, “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.”

Jews did, in fact, fight back during World War II—in particular in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in which resistance fighters used rifles, pistols, a machine gun and homemade bombs against the Nazis. Ultimately, about 40,000 people in the ghetto were either killed or sent to concentration camps following the rebellion.

Brown University historian Omer Bartov said that, ultimately, the Nazi army was difficult to fight. “The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?”

Some people victim-blame in order to rationalize violence. “In my experience, having worked with a lot of victims and people around them, people blame victims so that they can continue to feel safe themselves,” said Barbara Gilin, a professor at Widener University. “I think it helps them feel like bad things will never happen to them. They can continue to feel safe.”

Naomi LaChance
Blogger / Editorial Assistant
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.