Two days prior to a gunman bursting into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where he killed eleven Jewish congregants, a Kentucky father wore an SS officer costume, accompanied by his five year old son who was dressed as Adolph Hitler in Owensboro, Kentucky’s “Trail of Treats” Halloween event.
There is so much wrong with that sentence I just typed that I don’t know what to make of it. This is America in 2018.
What we know about the synagogue shooting is not pretty, but it is predictable. A white man, armed with an AR-15, hopped up on anger and hate towards HAIS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stormed into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue where a bris was taking place. He yelled “ALL JEWS MUST DIE,” as he shot into the group of worshipers.
The gunman, his hate fueled by exchanges on the social media platform, Gab, a popular site for white nationalists/supremacists and neo-Nazis who embrace “free” speech, a site which has since been disabled, left a post that alluded to his intent, “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote.
The brutal irony of this hate crime/mass shooting occurring in the hometown of Mr. Rogers is a sad analogy to where we are in this woeful moment of American culture. Squirrel Hill is approximately 40% Jewish, home to temples, synagogues, delis, Judaica stores — a cultural center for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
Roughly 500 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is Owensboro, Kentucky, the state’s 4th largest city, with a population of nearly 60K residents. Last Thursday, the town sponsored its annual Halloween event, “Trail of Treats,” a local event where kids can dress in costume and merchants host trick or treaters.
I legit cannot bear to research if Owensboro’s “Trail of Treats” is a riff off of the Trail of Tears, but my increasingly cynical self fears it might be. For folks not in the know, the Trail of Tears was the forced migration of tens of thousands of Native Americans from five separate tribes (Choktaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole) into Oklahoma, legalized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It is estimated that perhaps 10K of the 50K+ Native Americans relocated died of disease, starvation, and exposure during the forced journey. The Trail of Tears passed through the western part of Kentucky, so, yes, it is possible this is the reference of the event.
And, just to out myself as ignorant and not knowing any better, when I was a young mother, I would jokingly refer to the toys my young toddlers left around the house as my personal, “Trail of Tears.” Yeah, not good. Horrible, in fact. As a child, we had never really been taught about what the Trail of Tears was and how the US government was complicit in it. I know better now.
But I digress.
Last Thursday, a local man brought his family to the Trail of Treats in Owensboro. He was dressed as an SS officer, with quite an authentic looking costume, I might add, and he dressed his five year old boy as a mini Adolph Hitler, complete with armband Swastika and moustache.
The mother and father were indignant when confronted by others at the event, per their follow-up Facebook posts, where they both complained about the shoddy treatment they received by some of their fellow trick-or-treaters, and tried to justify and rationalize their choice of costumes. The father wrote:
“….we saw people dressed as murderers, devils, serial killers, blood and gore of all sorts. Nobody batted an eye. But my little boy and i, dress as historical figures, and it merits people not only making snide remarks, but approaching us and threatening my little 5 year old boy. … Yes liberalism is alive and well. And we had the displeasure of dealing with the fruits of the so called “Tolerant Left.”
And, not to be outdone by her husband, the mother commented in a series of comments, railing against Jewish people:
“The Jewish community want us all to feel sorry for them to get more money and power. They’re the ones who control the banks and mass media and the government at large. The truth is the media is controlled by the Zionists. The so-called “gas chambers” were de-lousing showers. He [Hitler] created work camps, not death camps.”
So, yes, this is where we are at in America in 2018. More and more, it looks like Germany of the early 1930s. Hitler did not come to power overnight, he played a long game with surgical precision. He leveraged hate and fear and othering that we are seeing more and more of in America.
On a side note, while researching this post, I came across a piece of information that adds depth to the deep roots and longstanding tradition of American hate. It turns out that Owensboro, Kentucky is home to the last public hanging in America. In 1936, on the town square, a black man was hung after being convicted for raping and murdering a white woman. News reports document hot dog vendors, popcorn, and children in attendance. The crowd mauled the man’s body after he died. Whew.
Everything is connected, folks. Hate is an enormous tapestry that weaves together a young family in Owensboro, Kentucky with a gunman in leafy Pittsburgh with a black man killed on the public square for sport. Right now, it seems, the looms are working 24/7 and the fibers that hold our hate are coming closer together, strengthening, bonding, intensifying.
Acknowledging the hate we live among is hard, but it is important. We must hold out hope and engage in work so that our love will trump hate. Read about the victims from the Tree of Life shooting HERE and share some love and kindness today in their memory.