President Trump will visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday to console victims of the synagogue massacre and their families, the White House announced, while rebuking the news media for blaming the president’s rhetoric in the attack.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president, who will be accompanied by first lady Melania Trump in Pittsburgh, is working to comfort a country heartbroken by the horrific attack and unify Americans to confront anti-Semitism everywhere.
She called anti-Semitism a “plague on humanity.”
“We all have a duty to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms, and everywhere and anywhere it appears. The American people reject hatred, bigotry, prejudice and violence,” Mrs. Sanders said at a White House press briefing. “We are a nation that believes in religious liberty, tolerance and respect, and we are a people who cherish the dignity of every human life.”
Almost immediately, she was asked whether Mr. Trump’s tone fueled the shooter’s anti-Semitic rage and the twisted reasoning behind another man’s package-bomb plot against the president’s political foes.
“The very first thing that the president did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the president and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts. That is outrageous, that that would be the very first reaction of so many people,” Mrs. Sanders said.
The synagogue attack occurred the day after a Florida man was arrested for mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to Democratic politicians, progressive activists and other critics of Mr. Trump.
The bomb scare, with new packages surfacing daily but never detonating, kept the nation on edge for a week.
“The only person responsible for carrying out these heinous acts were the individuals who carried them out,” Mrs. Sanders said.
Roughly 39 parent of Americans say Mr. Trump has the greatest responsibility to tone down the overheated partisan rhetoric in the U.S., compared to 24 percent who say its mostly up to the news media, according to a HarrisX/Hill.TV poll.
The rampage Saturday at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh killed 11 people and wounded six. It is believed to be the deadliest attack in U.S. history that specifically targeted Jews.
Mr. Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh coincides with the first funeral for victims of the attack, brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal.
Shortly after the shooting, Mr. Trump strongly condemned the senseless bloodshed and denounced anti-Semitism. But he went ahead with a scheduled campaign rally, saying he would not let an evil man’s actions dictate his schedule, and the rally then resulted in criticism for his usual harsh tone and that of some in the crowd.
Not everyone in Pittsburgh welcomed the president’s visit. The liberal Jewish activists group Bend the Arc penned an open letter demanding Mr. Trump stay away until he denounces “white nationalism.”
“You yourself called the murderer evil, but [Saturday’s] violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” wrote the group.
Before the synagogue massacre, Mr. Trump said at a rally that he was a nationalist, which provoked criticism he was using the term as a dogwhistle for Americans embracing racist beliefs. Mr. Trump has said that he does not see a connection between nationalism and white nationalism.
Other prominent Jewish figures welcomed the president’s visit.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading the Tree of Life congregation at the time of the assault, did not let NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie bait him into criticizing the president and said Mr. Trump would be welcome at the congregation.
“It would be my honor to always meet a president of the United States,” he replied.
The accused gunman, Robert Gregory Bowers, made his first court appearance Monday.
Mr. Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver with a history of online anti-Semitic and anti-Trump rants, was shot multiple times in a gun battle with police before he was captured.
He was discharged from a hospital and appeared in court in a wheelchair wearing handcuffs and shackles. The judge ordered Mr. Bowers held without bail at least until a preliminary hearing Thursday, when prosecutors will outline their case against him.
The bombing suspect, Cesar Sayoc, 56, also made his first appearance.
In a federal courtroom in Miami, the strip club bouncer and part-time pizza-delivery driver was ordered held without bond. He is expected to be moved to New York for prosecution.
Investigators said they found a “hit list” of more than 100 potential bomb recipient, reported The Miami Herald. The list was recovered from Mr. Sayoc’s van, where he appeared to live and allegedly assembled the bombs. The van was covered with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat stickers.
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