More than 35,000 people have signed an open letter to President Trump from the leaders of a Pittsburgh-based Jewish group who say the president will not be welcome in the city unless he denounces white nationalism and stops “targeting” minorities after a mass shooting Saturday at a local synagogue left 11 dead.
Nevertheless, the White House announced Trump would travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, ignoring the letter as well as a plea from Pittsburgh’s mayor that the president at least refrain from visiting “while we are burying the dead.” The first of the funerals for the 11 shooting victims is expected to take place Tuesday.
The open letter, which was published and shared on Sunday, was written by 11 members of the Pittsburgh affiliate of Bend the Arc, a national organization for progressive Jews focused on social justice, following what is being called the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. The shooting at Tree of Life synagogue also left several people injured, including law enforcement.
“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the Jewish leaders wrote. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence."
The letter continued: “Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.
Trump has continued tweeting incendiary statements since the synagogue massacre, indicating he does not intend to tone down his rhetoric. On Sunday night and Monday morning, the president blamed “Fake News” for causing division, hatred and “great anger” in the country. He reinstated his controversial branding of the press as “the true Enemy of the People.”
In a subsequent tweet, Trump congratulated the newly elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist with a history of denigrating women, gays and minorities. He also once again amplified unsubstantiated statements about the Central American migrant caravan, claiming without evidence there were gang members and “some very bad people” mixed into the group and warning it was an impending “invasion” of the United States.
During a television appearance Monday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway responded to another request for the president to stay away from Pittsburgh from Lynette Lederman, the former president of Tree of Life synagogue, who has said she considers Trump a “purveyor of hate speech.”
“I know that she’s very grief stricken, I can imagine, and my heartfelt condolences go to her, and everybody in that congregation regardless of politics,” Conway said on CNN. “Many people are welcoming the president to go there and to help heal.”
On Saturday, Trump strongly condemned the shooting as “pure evil,” adding the “vile, hate-filled poison of anti-Semitism” and all other forms of prejudice must be rejected, The Washington Post reported. The president also announced he would be making a visit to Pittsburgh.
...This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2018
News of the president’s possible travel plans did not sit well with Joshua Friedman, who is one of the leaders of Bend the Arc’s Pittsburgh chapter.
“My immediate reaction was he is not welcome here,” Friedman, who does not attend services at Tree of Life, told The Post in a Sunday phone interview. “I immediately wrote to the rest of our steering committee that he is not welcome, we have to make that clear.”
Four boldfaced lines stand out from the rest of the letter’s 338 words.
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.”
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.”
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.”
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.”
Bend the Arc was founded in 2012 as an advocacy organization. Three years later, with the help of Alexander Soros, son of liberal philanthropist George Soros, the group launched the first Jewish political action committee focused on dealing solely with domestic issues, the Forward reported. According to its website, the group supports “everyone threatened by the Trump agenda,” and Alexander Soros is the chair of its board of directors. The Pittsburgh chapter was created shortly after the 2016 election, Friedman said.
On Sunday, Friedman read the letter, which is also signed by the group’s other 10 leaders, aloud in front of the White House during an afternoon vigil organized by Bend the Arc. To his surprise, he said the crowd began reading the boldfaced sentences with him.
“People are on board,” Friedman said, describing the experience as “powerful” and “energizing.” “People are hearing the words. People understand why we need do this.”
In recent days, Trump’s critics have alleged his incendiary rhetoric has contributed to the current climate of violence — a claim the president and members of the GOP vehemently oppose. Last week, more than 10 pipe bombs were discovered nationwide targeting people including former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as employees at CNN. Cesar Sayoc, who is suspected of mailing the bombs, is a vocal Trump supporter who often ranted about people or organizations the president clashed with, The Post reported.
Trump has also come under fierce criticism for failing to condemn white supremacists, such as the ones present in Charlottesville last year. After violence broke out at the city’s Unite the Right rally in August 2017, leaving one woman dead and many others injured, the president said he thought there was “blame on both sides,” The Post’s David Nakamura reported.
Robert Bowers, the man arrested after Saturday’s deadly mass shooting, was active on a social media site known to be frequented by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others with extreme beliefs that may not be tolerated on more-mainstream platforms, The Post reported. A user with Bowers’s name espoused anti-Semitic views — comparing Jews to Satan, for example — and often expressed racism against African Americans, using the n-word in nearly 20 posts.
“We feel like there have been multiple communities under attack in the United States from the vitriol that the president has been spreading,” Friedman said. “It was the Jewish community’s turn. Blowback from his words came and cost people’s lives, and we said enough is enough.”
If the president decides to visit Pittsburgh without meeting the letter’s demands, Friedman said, he expects Trump will “only be met with derision.”
“We will let him know how unhappy we are with his presence, with his lack of leadership,” he said. “He will see all of Pittsburgh in the streets. It’s not just going to be the people that signed on to the letter. It’s going to be everybody."
Friedman added, “If he’s going to come to our city, he’s going to come on our terms.”
John Wagner contributed to this report. This post has been updated.