Robert Bowers is an American white nationalist who, on October 27, 2018, carried out the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting—the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the United States. The shooting rampage killed 11 and wounded six others. Bowers was indicted by a federal court on charges including hate crimes, as well as the obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs and discharging a firearm. The maximum penalty he could receive if convicted is death, or life without parole plus 535 additional years of imprisonment.“Pennsylvania Man Charged with Federal Hate Crimes for Tree Of Life Synagogue Shooting,” U.S. Department of Justice, October 31, 2018, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/pennsylvania-man-charged-federal-hate-crimes-tree-life-synagogue-shooting.
Until the attack, Bowers was unknown to law enforcement. Bowers made at least six firearm purchases since 1996 and had an active gun license.Saeed Ahmed and Paul P. Murphy, “Here's what we know so far about Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect,” CNN, October 28, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/27/us/synagogue-attack-suspect-robert-bowers-profile/index.html. Based on public records, Bowers had no known employment.Erin Ailworth and James R. Hagerty, “Pittsburgh Shooting Suspect Described as Man Who Kept to Himself,” Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pittsburgh-shooting-suspect-described-as-man-who-kept-to-himself-1540771482.
According to reports, Bowers was a staunch conservative who regularly listened to Jim Quinn’s The Warroom. Around 2000, Bowers volunteered as the show’s archivist, stockpiling episodes on the website www.onedingo.com. The show regularly espoused right-wing conspiracy theories including the belief that United Nations’ forces were poised to disarm U.S. citizens upon the creation of a global government.Rich Lord, “How Robert Bowers went from conservative to white nationalist,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 10, 2018, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2018/11/10/Robert-Bowers-extremism-Tree-of-Life-massacre-shooting-pittsburgh-Gab-Warroom/stories/201811080165.
Sometime in January 2018, Bowers opened an account on Gab, a social network that is popular among alt-right activists and white nationalists. Under the username onedingo, Bowers shared streams of anti-Jewish slurs and conspiracy theories.Julie Turkewitz and Kevin Roose, “Who Is Robert Bowers, the Suspect in the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting?” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/robert-bowers-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooter.html. In October 2018, Bowers often reposted content on the Christian Identity movement which claims people of European descent are the “chosen people,” that Jews are the enemy, and people of other ethnic and racial backgrounds are meant to be exterminated or enslaved.Rich Lord, “How Robert Bowers went from conservative to white nationalist,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 10, 2018, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2018/11/10/Robert-Bowers-extremism-Tree-of-Life-massacre-shooting-pittsburgh-Gab-Warroom/stories/201811080165. Bowers allegedly posted one message stating, “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”Julie Turkewitz and Kevin Roose, “Who Is Robert Bowers, the Suspect in the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting?” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/robert-bowers-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooter.html. Bowers was vehemently anti-immigrant in his beliefs and a week before the attack, posted a message stating, “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I'm going in.”Rich Lord, “How Robert Bowers went from conservative to white nationalist,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 10, 2018, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2018/11/10/Robert-Bowers-extremism-Tree-of-Life-massacre-shooting-pittsburgh-Gab-Warroom/stories/201811080165.; Julie Turkewitz and Kevin Roose, “Who Is Robert Bowers, the Suspect in the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting?,” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/robert-bowers-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooter.html.
On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light Jewish congregations gathered together for Sabbath. The synagogue, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, did not have armed security guards. Bowers entered the building armed with multiple firearms, shouting “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.Kellie B. Gormly, Avi Selk, Joel Achenbach, Mark Berman and Alex Horton, “Suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting charged with 29 counts in deaths of 11 people,” Washington Post, October 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/10/27/pittsburgh-police-responding-active-shooting-squirrel-hill-area/. Bowers was injured by gunfire, although authorities state they were unclear whether those wounds were self-inflicted or whether the police had shot him. Bowers was taken to Allegheny General Hospital. He recovered from his wounds and made an initial court appearance on October 29, 2018.Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html.; Eli Rosenberg, “‘I’m Dr. Cohen’: The powerful humanity of the Jewish hospital staff that treated Robert Bowers,” Washington Post, October 30, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2018/10/30/im-dr-cohen-powerful-humanity-jewish-hospital-staff-that-treated-robert-bowers/.
Later that month on October 31, Bowers was indicted on 44 counts, including hate crimes, obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, and use of a firearm to commit murder. On November 1, Bowers pled not guilty.“Pennsylvania Man Charged with Federal Hate Crimes for Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting,” U.S. Department of Justice, October 31, 2018, https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdpa/pr/pennsylvania-man-charged-federal-hate-crimes-tree-life-synagogue-shooting. On January 29, 2019, a federal grand jury charged Bowers with additional federal hate crimes and firearms offenses, bringing his total count to 63 charges.“Additional Charges Filed in Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 29, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdpa/pr/additional-charges-filed-tree-life-synagogue-shooting-0. On October 15, 2019, federal prosecutors rejected Bowers’ offer to plead guilty in return for life-without-parole. Federal prosecutors are in favor of pursuing the death penalty for Bowers. The trial is expected to start in mid-September 2020.“Prosecutors criticized for nixing plea offer from Pittsburgh synagogue shooter,” Times of Israel, October 16, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/prosecutors-criticized-for-nixing-plea-offer-from-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooter/.