The Pittsburgh man accused in the deadliest incident of antisemitism in U.S. history was set to go on trial Monday.
Jury selection was scheduled to begin in the trial of 50-year-old Robert Bowers, who could potentially face the death penalty for dozens of charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes, after 11 people were shot to death at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018.
The mass shooting put a spotlight on the social media site Gab.com, which is notorious for its pervasive anti-Semitic and racist jargon and memes. On the same day as the mass shooting, Bowers reportedly posted on the site to blast a Jewish non-profit refugee organization, saying it was bringing “invaders to kill our people” into the U.S.
The website came up more recently during the 2020 Gubernatorial race, when candidate Doug Mastriano (R) paid $5,000 in “campaign consulting” fees to the platform. Mastriano would go on to lose handily to Democrat Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish.
If jurors in Bowers’ trial eventually find him guilty, they will then determine whether he spends the rest of his life in prison or is executed by lethal injection.
In seeking the death penalty, federal prosecutors will attempt to prove among their assertions that Bowers substantially planned the attack and that he targeted vulnerable victims.
Lawyers for Bowers have repeatedly attempted to get the court to take the death penalty off the table, asserting it unconstitutional on grounds that the defendant suffers from mental illness, including schizophrenia.
Prosecutors say Bowers, who was armed with multiple firearms, stormed the synagogue during Saturday services and shouted, “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.
In addition to the 11 mostly elderly congregants who were killed, two others were wounded as were five police officers before Bowers finally surrendered and was taken into custody.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. linked to extremism increased three-fold in the past decade.