By Lee Chottiner
As Pittsburgh mourns its three police offers who were shot dead Saturday by a racist gunman in Stanton Heights, one Jewish organization is using the incident to remind the public that hate-minded extremists pose a real threat to society.
That’s especially true now, it says, when job losses and mounting debt brought on by the recession can push dangerous people over the edge.
The Anti-Defamation League has posted details of the anti-Semitic and racist posts made by the shooter, Richard Poplawski, to extremist Web sites, including Stormfront, the world’s largest online neo-Nazi discussion forum. In those posts, Poplawski, according to ADL, exhibits rage against racial minorities, Jews, the government and police.
According to ADL Poplawski also frequented Infowars, a Web site of the right-wing conspiracy radio talk-show host Alex Jones, where he shared links to its stories with others and sometimes posted his own messages to the site.
ADL Regional Director Shari Kochman, said the posted information is meant as a warning.
“I think it’s a reflection of how dangerous supremacist and hate ideology can be,” Kochman said. “It needs to be taken seriously — not in terms of becoming paranoid, but in terms of becoming alert and wise.”
Very often, she said, the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center are dismissed for tracking just a few crazies.
“This shows how dangerous those few crazies can be,” she said.
That threat is magnified in tough economic times, like these.
“I think it is more likely that people who are already prone to this type of ideology may be pushed over the edge and become true believers,” Kochman said.
In fact, on March 13, the Stormfront account linked to Poplawski carried a lengthy post predicting economic collapse, engineered by a Jewish conspiracy.
“An economic crisis, depending on the person’s perception of that particular crisis, will cause them to react based on their perception, said Rick Myer, a professor of education at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist.
“Some people might get angry and do certain things,” added Myer, who counseled victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, “some people might get scared and do certain things, other people would get a feeling of despair and react based on that.”
Poplawski shot four Pittsburgh police officers, three of them fatally, when they responded to a domestic disturbance at his home in Stanton Heights.
According to police, Polawski fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition from an AK 47 before he surrendered.
While the shooting may have been motivated by hatred, it probably doesn’t meet the legal definition of a hate crime.
According to the Uniform Crime Report of the FBI, a hate crime is “a criminal offense committed against a person, property or society, which is motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin.
Police officers are not included in that list. None of the slain officers were Jewish and only one, Eric Kelly, was black.
The shootings come less than two weeks after a former white supremacist, T.J. Leyden, appeared at a Hillel-sponsored event at the University of Pittsburgh to warn about the rising influence of such groups.
He particularly noted a group in Pennsylvania called the Keystone State Skinheads, which has been active in Pittsburgh and other cities across the state. At least one of Poplawski’s postings made reference to that group.
There are at least 37 hate groups in Pennsylvania, according to some reports.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)