Inside, he opened fire on congregants in what marks the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.
Eight men and three women – aged from 54 to 97 – died in the massacre.
After numerous delays, the now-50-year-old is finally standing trial for more than 60 federal charges including obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and hate crimes resulting in death.
During opening arguments on Tuesday, Mr Bowers’ attorneys admitted that he was responsible for the massacre but claimed that he acted on “an irrational motive” and had “misguided intent”.
Prosecutors meanwhile pointed out that, in the months leading up the shooting, the suspect had been spewing bigoted and antisemitic vitriol online.
If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
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Follow all the latest updates here on the trial of Robert Bowers, the man accused of murdering 11 in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018
What we know about the Tree of Life shooting
The trial of Robert Bowers, the man charged with perpetrating the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh in 2018, began with opening statements on Tuesday.
Mr Bowers, who is charged with 63 criminal counts, could face the death penalty if convicted. Here is a rundown of what we know about him and the crimes he is charged with committing.
Here’s what you need to know about the case:
The trial of Robert Bowers, the man charged with perpetrating the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, began on Tuesday. Abe Asher writes
Who is Robert Bowers?
Robert Bowers, born in 1972, was 46 years old at the time of the shooting. He had, by multiple accounts, a challenging childhood. His parents divorced when he was around one year old, and his father, Randall Bowers, died by suicide while awaiting trial on a rape charge six or so years later.
Mr Bowers was raised in large part by his grandparents in the Pittsburgh suburb of Whitehall and attended Baldwin High School for several years before dropping out and becoming a trucker. Mr Bowers’ colleagues and neighbours largely described him in the aftermath of the shooting as quiet and not memorable. One toldThe New York Times that she couldn’t even remember his name.
On 27 October 2018, Robert Bowers entered the synagogue where three separate services were underway involving the three different congregations that practised there, and began shooting.
The shooting reportedly lasted for roughly 20 mintues. Mr Bowers was allegedly armed with an assault rifle and three semi-automatic pistols. When police arrived at the synagogue about 10 minutes after Mr Bowers entered, he shot at them. He later engaged tactical teams who arrived at the synagogue in a fire fight, fleeing to a room on the third floor of the building after he was wounded.
Finally, nearly an hour-and-a-half after he entered the synagogue, Mr Bowers surrendered to law enforcement and recieved medical care for his gunshot wounds. He reportedly told a SWAT officer after surrendering that he wanted all Jews to die.
Robert Bowers’ pushed the Great Replacement theory and made antisemitic posts before shooting
Robert Bowers was verbose online where he was radicalised and trafficked in white nationalist conspiracy theories.
Mr Bowers was a heavy user of the far right social networking platform Gab, where he promoted the Great Replacement theory and made antisemitic and racist posts.
Shortly before the shooting, Mr Bowers ranted against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) for sponsoring a National Refugee Shabbat.
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Mr Bowers wrote on the platform. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Who is Robert Bowers? The alleged antisemite on trial for Tree of Life synagogue shooting
On 27, October, 2018, Robert Bowers, then 46, allegedly walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and began shooting at worshippers.
He allegedly killed 11 people before he was shot and wounded and surrendered to police. Mr Bowers now faces 63 federal counts, including 11 counts each of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death as well as hate crimes resulting in death. He could face the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
So who is Robert Bowers?
Find out here:
Suspect faces the death penalty if convicted
Who were the victims?
The shooting at Tree of Life traumatised the historically Jewish Squirrel Hill community and Jews across the nation. Eleven people were killed during the shooting and seven more were injured. The first people killed were the brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal. Jerry Rabinowitz, a physician, was killed after moving towards the sound of the shooting to see if anyone needed medical assistance.
The shooting was the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, and it carried a particular edge given that it was linked to HIAS’ work protecting and resettling refugees — work born out of the Jewish experience of persecution in Europe in the decades leading up to the Holocaust.
The people who lost their lives in the shooting were: Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69.
Pittsburgh Jewish community monitoring hate speech amid trial
The head of security for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community says there has been an “uptick in hate speech” on the internet, but no specific threats, in the early stages of the trial of the man accused of killing 11 worshippers at a synagogue here in 2018.
And Jewish leaders say that while the trial is bringing out the worst of extremists in some dark corners of the web, it’s also brought an outpouring of support from the community — ranging from law enforcement agencies helping with security to local food vendors collaborating to bring meals to victims’ families during the trial.
Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said officials have monitored “general chatter in support of the defendant ... and his hateful vitriol” on the internet. The materials “would turn anyone’s stomach,” she said.
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The head of security for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community says there has been an “uptick in hate speech” on the internet in the early stages of the trial of the man accused of killing 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018
Opening arguments: The prosecution
In the prosecution’s opening statement, lead prosecutor Soo C. Song told jurors that Robert Bowers was motivated by his hatred of Jewish people.
Pointing to social media posts made before the massacre, Ms Song said that the defendant wanted “to destroy, to kill and to defile” Jews.
“Jews are a cancer on the planet, Jews are evil creatures, Jews are pedophiles,” he had posted online before the attack.
That day, he then drove to the majority Jewish neighbourhood with an trove of weapons.
“Once he entered the synagogue the defendant began to hunt, he moved from room to room, upstairs and downstairs … looking for Jewish worshippers to kill,” she said.
The prosecutor described the attack in graphic detail, including how Mr Bowers shot one woman in the face as she tried to protect her daughter.
Opening arguments: The defence
In her opening statement, Robert Bowers’ attorney Judy Clarke admitted that he went to Tree of Life in 2018 and “shot every person he saw” and said that “there is no making sense of this senseless act.
Mr Bowers caused extraordinary harm to many, many people.”
But Ms Clarke suggested that in Mr Bowers’ mind, he genuinely believed was trying to help people by targeting Jews. Mr Bowers’ lawyers have also claimed that he has epilepsy and schizophrenia.
Whether Mr Bowers would actually be killed by the state if convicted remains to be seen. President Joe Biden voiced his opposition to the death penalty when he ran for president in 2020, and Attorney General Merrick Garland placed a moritorium on all federal executions two years ago.