The recent killing of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue was shocking, but the ideology of the man charged in the shooting is nothing new.
“I’ve observed social media for a year and a half and so I’ve seen this kind of rhetoric very often coming up,” said Gunther Jikeli, an associate professor at Indiana University.
Jikeli is a historian and sociologist of modern Europe, with particular interests in the history of antisemitism. Last year students in his contemporary antisemitism course spent a semester studying and responding to online expressions of hate to produce a report on the best practices for combating antisemitism on social media. Statements alleged shooter Robert Bowers reportedly made to a law enforcement officer align with a worldview common among the extreme right, Jikeli said.
According to the criminal complaint, Bowers said “they’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.” Jikeli said marchers at the “Ignite The Right” rally that left three people dead last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, said similar things. Immigration is seen as a threat by white supremacists, he said, and some people believe Jews are responsible for immigrants coming to the U.S.
“It’s completely nonsense,” Jikeli said.
Thirty years ago, people had to physically attend meetings to connect with others who shared the same radical ideas. The internet has made it easier for these people to create circles where this kind of thinking is the norm. That’s why Jikeli and the report his students worked on encourage people to reply when they see antisemitic posts.