Synagogue shooting suspect threatened Jewish groups, pushed conspiracies

Law enforcement run with a person on a stretcher at the scene where multiple people were shot on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Copyright Alexandra Wimley Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Copyright Alexandra Wimley Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
By Ben Collins with NBC News U.S. News
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The suspect frequently wrote on the social network Gab, where he made a specific threat against Jews hours before allegedly conducting Saturday's attack.


Robert Bowers, the Pennsylvania man accused of a fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, posted prolifically online about conspiracy theories and made repeated threats to Jews.

Bowers frequently wrote on the social network Gab, where he made a specific threat against Jews hours before allegedly conducting Saturday's attack.

In the post, Bowers said that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a humanitarian aid nonprofit group that provides assistance to refugees, brought immigrants to the United States to do violence against others.

"Screw your optics, I'm going in," he wrote.

Bowers frequently posted about the "migrant caravan," a group of several thousand refugees walking to the U.S.-Mexico border from Honduras to seek asylum. Preventing refugees in the caravan from entering the U.S. has been a major talking point among both right-wing commentators and President Donald Trump, who has spoken about it in recent pre-midterm election stump speeches.

Shooting suspect Rob Bowers.
Shooting suspect Rob Bowers.

Bowers' anti-Semitic posts and his apparent disdain for the caravan are tied to a viral image that appears to show refugees hopping onto the bed of a truck that had a Star of David visible on the side. The image has been widely shared on far-right forums like 4chan and the Russian propaganda operation USA Really. He reposted a screenshot of a video of the caravan that that aired on Fox News, as well as other networks, that does not mention the symbol.

Bowers frequently reposted conspiracy theories about the image of the truck and reposted comments about it from other Gab users.

That anti-Semitic conspiracy theories posited by the users that Bowers later reposted are still viewable on Gab.

In another post, he linked to a directory of synagogues participating in an HIAS event, National Refugee Shabbat, that was held last week, saying he "appreciated" the list.


Bowers also reposted a user who imploring others to be forewarned of a "false flag" attack before the midterm elections — a false claim repeated by far-right and some mainstream conservatives this week about the 14 explosive devices sent to prominent Trump critics.

Bowers appeared disillusioned with Trump for not sharing Bowers' anti-Semitic and extremist views. Days after Trump declared himself a nationalist at a campaign event, Bowers claimed that Trump was a "globalist" and not a nationalist.

The biography section of Bowers' Gab profile used his full name and said he was a verified user on the platform.

His profile's banner image included what seems to be a radar gun showing the numbers 1488, a white supremacist numeric symbol.

On the page one month ago, Bowers posted pictures of his gun collection, calling it "my glock family."

Gab is a site often promoted as an alternative to Twitter for those banned from the platform for racism or harassment, like InfoWars' Alex Jones. A study of Gab's top posts published this year, which analyzed 22 million posts, said the social network mostly "attracts alt-right users, conspiracy theorists, and other trolls."

Gab CEO Andrew Torba issued a press release mostly defending the social network, and saying the company was alerted to Bowers' profile shortly after the attack. Bowers' profile has since been removed.

"Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately. We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account," Torba said in the statement. "We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession. We are ready and willing to work with law enforcement to see to it that justice is served."

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