Key prosecution witness says synagogue shooter proud of his killing, not delusional
10/27 TrialPenalty phase of trial

Key prosecution witness says synagogue shooter proud of his killing, not delusional

Expert testified that the shooter was not psychotic, but rather acting on a set of "cultural beliefs" fomented by online immersion into the white separatist movement.

A view of the Joseph F. Weis, Jr. U.S. Courthouse, Downtown, photographed Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)
A view of the Joseph F. Weis, Jr. U.S. Courthouse, Downtown, photographed Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Synagogue killer Robert Bowers had a regret about his 2018 rampage at the Tree of Life building that left 11 dead, but it had nothing to do with remorse.

He had wanted to kill more.

That was what he told psychiatrist Park Dietz, expert witness for the prosecution, during a three-day interview, according to federal court testimony on Monday.

Dietz said the shooter, on trial now for his life, told him his only regret was that there weren’t “dozens and dozens more in there. They can kill me if they want but the score is still 11-1.”

The defendant also described that number as a “Yiddish dozen” because “you always get shorted one,” an antisemitic reference to the Jewish stereotype of financial greed.

Dietz, a UCLA professor who has been called as an expert in many high-profile cases, was testifying for a second day in the death penalty trial.

His conclusion on Monday was the same as it was last week: That the defendant is not delusional or schizophrenic, as the defense claims, but a calculating killer who was proud of what he did, saw himself as a soldier in a war by whites against Jews and had murderous intent on Oct. 27, 2018.

Bowers has already been found guilty on 63 federal counts. He’s now on trial to determine if he’s eligible for the death penalty. To show that he is, the prosecution has to prove he had the intent to kill.

The defense wants to convince the jury that he was delusional and could not form that intent. To bolster that contention, the lawyers have presented experts who say brain scans and other tests show he’s schizophrenic.

Prosecutors have presented their own experts to counter that diagnosis.

Dietz is one of them.

His main point on Monday was that the shooter was not psychotic during the killings but rather acting on a set of “cultural beliefs” fomented by online immersion into the white separatist movement.

Essentially, the defendant blames Jews for an influx of immigrants that he feels threaten the white majority in America. Dietz said he had three goals in carrying out the synagogue massacre: To stop anyone aiding HIAS, an immigrant aid organization; to scare others who might want to help immigrants; and to bring attention to the “great replacement” theory.

In talking to the defendant at the Butler County Prison, Dietz said, “I understood his reasoning.”
He said Bowers suffers from a schizoid personality disorder, but he said that is not the same as a mental disease like schizophrenia.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song why the defense would see the shooter differently, Dietz said that the defense medical experts might not have been familiar with the idea that Jews are behind “the great replacement theory.” To an outsider, he said, it does sound crazy. But Dietz said that the shooter’s belief system is shared by a subculture in America that dates back decades.

Dietz mentioned two books on a reading list that the defendant posted online which reflect his beliefs — Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and “The Turner Diaries,” a 1978 novel about a revolution in America that leads to a race war by whites against minorities and Jews.

Dietz said the defendant had only read the first chapter of “Mein Kampf” but said, “Hitler wasn’t wrong.”

As for “The Turner Diaries,” which Dietz said he first brought to the attention of the FBI in the 1980s because of its white supremacist theme, the book makes mention of “mud people” in reference to mixed races. Dietz said the shooter had a similar term — “cappuccino people.”

The defendant’s views were cemented online with the like-minded, Dietz said, but they are not evidence of mental illness.

“I couldn’t find a single example of a delusional belief,” he said.

The shooter’s beliefs even permeated his relationship with his mother, one of the few people with whom he had a close relationship despite a difficult upbringing. In a recorded jail call played for the jury, he is heard telling her that history shows republics only last 250 years with the implication that the U.S. is nearing the end of its lifespan. Dietz said he was making a historical observation that others have made and was concerned with preserving white culture.

Dietz said the defendant has not shown delusional behavior in any of his interactions.

While being processed at the Allegheny County Jail after the shootings, for example, a video showed him coherently answering questions.

“He was at all times calm and cooperative,” Dietz said.

A jail psychiatrist also determined that the defendant had “cultural beliefs” but was not psychotic, Dietz said.

The careful planning leading up to the synagogue attack also showed how his mind worked, Dietz said.

He started preparing in April 2018 after concluding that Jews were behind an immigrant invasion. He’d heard the idea on right-wing radio for several years before that but decided to act on it after watching CNN and other mainstream media outlets.

He considered other targets, including Barbara Lerner Spectre, founding director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, but she was overseas. Other targets were too far away or too hard to attack.

Dietz said the defendant was “engaging in a calculus” of getting the “biggest bang for the buck” and settled on Dor Hadash Congregation — one of the three congregations in the Tree of Life building — because it supported HIAS and was nearby and vulnerable.

“It became his primary target when he ruled out the others,” Dietz said.

When the shooter, after the massacre, learned that Dor Hadash had been aiding refugees in Congo, he commented that the congregation “had not learned its lesson” from his murderous spree.

Dietz said the gun enthusiast also went into technical detail about his AR-15 and his Glock pistols, noting that he said he deliberately used Israeli-made ammunition in the attack.

The shooter also took satisfaction in the efficiency of his attack, Dietz said, praising himself for his ability to reload his weapons and stay calm. He criticized other mass shooters in California and Atlanta for their lack of training and planning.

One concept he discussed was the idea of being a “gray man,” meaning keeping a low profile to ensure success. He was critical of an attacker in Youngstown, Ohio, who planned to kill Jews but drew attention to himself with online comments.

“I think he was proud that he succeeded in staying a gray man,” Dietz said of the defendant.

To that end, Bowers said he didn’t case the synagogue but did all his research online so police couldn’t track his car. Dietz said the defendant told him he was later surprised by the complex layout of the building once he got inside.

Dietz said the shooter told him he selected Saturday for his attack after checking an online Dor Hadash calendar indicating Saturday was a busy day. Dietz said he asked him if he ever had doubts that he would follow through.

“I kind of put myself in the position where I had to,” the defendant said.

His car lease was up, he explained, and he would soon lose his vehicle and his ability to get to the synagogue.

So he chose Oct. 27.

Dietz said he also explained that he left three-quarters of his ammo in his car for use against a secondary target. Once inside, he found more victims than he expected and thought about going back to get more bullets, but decided to use what he had.

Dietz said all those calculations showed Bowers knew what he was doing.

“It’s my view,” he said, “that he did have the capacity to form the intent to kill his victims.” PJC

Torsten Ove writes for the Pittsburgh Union Progress, where this first appeared. He can be reached at jtorsteno@gmail.com. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

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