Nine days from elections that will determine the control of Congress, Trump stuck to his plans to appear at an agricultural convention and a political rally on Saturday.
Throughout the day, he expressed sorrow, called for justice and bemoaned hate, getting regular updates on the shooting. But he also campaigned for candidates, took shots at Democratic targets House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Elizabeth Warren and made jokes about his hair.
At a massive rally in southern Illinois for Republican Mike Bost, Trump condemned the shooting as an “evil anti-Semitic attack”. But he said cancelling his appearance would make “sick, demented people important”. He pledged to change his tone for the evening and did cool some of his most fiery rhetoric.
The slaughter at Sabbath services followed a tense week dominated by a mail bomb plot with apparent political motivations and served as another toxic reminder of a divided nation. It also again underscored Trump’s reluctance to step into the role of national unifier at tense moments as well as his singular focus heading into elections that could dramatically change his presidency.
Trump acknowledged the weight these moments carry, telling reporters that experiencing such events as president, “it’s a level of terribleness and horror that you can’t even believe. It’s hard to believe”.
The White House said Trump spoke to the governor of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Pittsburgh. He also spoke to his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.
Soon after returning to Washington, Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the country to be flown at half-staff until October 31 in “solemn respect” for the victims.
Yesterday, officials said the 11 people murdered at the synagogue, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the US, were mostly older worshippers, ranging in age from 54 to 97. The suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, stormed the building during a Saturday morning service. He also wounded six others including four police officers before being arrested.
Bowers, who had made statements about genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people, will be charged with federal hate crimes and could face the death penalty. He will make an appearance before a judge this afternoon.
Speaking to a massive, cheering crowd at an airport hangar in southern Illinois at the weekend, Trump said “the hearts of all Americans are filled with grief”, following the monstrous killing.
He also sought to distance himself from the man arrested in the shooting, calling him “sick” and saying “he was no supporter of mine”. AP Reuters