Prosecutors in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting case describe evidence for trial
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Oct. 27 shootingTrial update

Prosecutors in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting case describe evidence for trial

Evidence includes many of the defendant's posts on Gab, and videos and news items he sent to family members.

A memorial outside the Tree of Life building after the Oct. 27, 2018, anti-Semitic murders of 11 congregants. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
A memorial outside the Tree of Life building after the Oct. 27, 2018, anti-Semitic murders of 11 congregants. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

Federal prosecutors disclosed in a court filing last week evidence they intend to introduce at the trial of the man accused of murdering 11 Jews in the Tree of Life building. The evidence includes many of the defendant’s antisemitic posts on the social media site Gab and videos and news items the defendant sent to family members espousing his hatred for Jews.

In a notice of evidence of “other crimes, wrongs or acts” — which is required pursuant to federal law in a criminal case — prosecutors must articulate the purpose of the evidence; permitted purposes include “proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”

Prosecutors said the evidence will show that the defendant held Jewish people “responsible for white disempowerment because of their support for refugees and immigration,” and will confirm the defendant believed that “Jewish groups had sponsored or otherwise supported a caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the United States.” The defendant’s alleged “anti-Semitic animus” is “intrinsic” to his motive, prosecutors wrote.

If convicted, the defendant faces the death penalty. No trial date has been set, although U.S. District Judge Robert Colville indicated it will be next year.

In their notice, prosecutors wrote that the defendant created a Gab account in January 2018 under the username @onedingo, and that he wrote “jews are the children of satan” on his profile page.

Prosecutors said the defendant’s Gab account was filled with antisemitic content and described some of his posts in the weeks before the shooting, including an image appearing to be a human body “burning in a Holocaust crematorium.” Above the image, the defendant wrote: “Make Ovens 1488°F Again.” The number “1488,” prosecutors wrote, refers to a “numerical combination commonly used by white supremacists: ‘14’ for the 14 words in the white supremacist saying, ‘we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children;’ and ‘88’ for ‘Heil Hitler,’ as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.”

The defendant also reposted antisemitic content from other Gab users, according to prosecutors, “such as an image showing a road sign that reads, ‘GAS THE JEWS,’” and another stating “Kick the jews OUT! This is Not Their HOME! No One Wants the Whiny kikes!”

In the weeks before the massacre, the defendant posted numerous comments indicating that he believed Jews were responsible for bringing immigrants to the U.S. and thereby threatening white empowerment, according to prosecutors, including a repost from a Gab user stating, “Every time a white country is being invaded by people of color you will find evidence that the Jews are behind it somehow. Here is a picture from the now 4000 strong caravan headed for our southern border. Note that the truck carrying the migrants has a Star of David clearly visible on it. The Jews are trying to erase you white man so that they can control the whole world. You are the ONLY thing left standing in the way of their (((Globalist))) One World Order. Call me a racist or a Nazi. I don’t even care anymore. All I know is that my people are under attack, and we’re losing. #RiseUp #14Words.”

Some of the defendant’s posts and reposts, prosecutors said, were aimed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). About two weeks before the massacre, he posted a screenshot on his Gab account of a HIAS webpage announcing a National Refugee Shabbat, “and linked to a list of Jewish congregations across the country hosting the event. Notably, the list included Pittsburgh’s Congregation Dor Hadash.” Dor Hadash was housed at the Tree of Life building and was one of the three congregations the defendant allegedly attacked. The defendant added commentary to that post, according to prosecutors: “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided.”

Before entering the Tree of Life building, the defendant posted on Gab: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” according to the notice of evidence.

Prosecutors said they will also be introducing evidence obtained from the defendant’s cell phone, which law enforcement seized following the attack on Oct. 27, 2018. While the defendant had implemented enhanced encryption features on his phone and deleted “a significant portion” of its contents, FBI analysts were able to recover some information, including multiple photos of the defendant’s firearms and screenshots from a video of Jared Kushner speaking at the dedication of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Another photo depicts the defendant making the “OK” hand sign “that is often used as a ‘white power’ symbol: with a circled index finger and thumb to denote a ‘p’ for ‘power,’ and the remaining three fingers to denote a ‘w’ for ‘white,’” according to prosecutors.

The prosecution said it also plans to introduce videos and news items the defendant emailed to family members in the two or three years before the massacre that reflect his “hatred of Jewish people,” some associated with antisemitic, racist and anti-immigrant conspiracy theories “pertaining to Q-Anon, the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in 2017, and Black land repossession in South Africa.”

Prosecutors said the evidence will be used to help prove the defendant is guilty of committing hate crimes.

In another court filing last week, defense attorneys sought permission from the court to ask potential jurors about their religious affiliation to ensure that Catholics, and other religious groups that might be opposed to capital punishment, not be improperly excluded.

The defense is requesting a one-question survey of potential jurors regarding their religious affiliation.

Prosecutors have until Sept. 19 to respond. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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