Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who serves the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 worshippers were killed last year in an anti-Semitic attack, said New Zealand’s mosque shootings were a dark reminder of the past.
“To me it was as though I’m living the movie ‘Groudhog Day’ as a horror film all over again,” he told MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Friday after the massacre unfolded.
Earlier that day, at least 49 people were shot dead in two Christchurch mosques. Initial indications point to white supremacy as a motive, since a manifesto posted online by the alleged gunman describes his hatred of Muslims and love of U.S. extremist movements.
Meyers recognized that the act of violence echoes that seen by his community not long ago, pointing to the spread of hate speech as a key factor.
“You get [hate speech] from lack of understanding, a lack of education, a lack of respect for the community that surrounds you, so certainly to me, one element is the language,” he said. “The tone of discourse in our country is less civil―it’s more uncivil.”
Making a veiled reference to President Donald Trump, the rabbi noted he didn’t feel “our leaders have served us well.”
“When they’re uncivilized towards each other, they give us the permission to therefore act that way with our neighbors,” he said, adding that he wasn’t optimistic about change in the near future. Instead, phrasing his remarks in general terms, he suggested the public had to force change by speaking out on the behavior of elected officials.
Since Friday’s killings, one man has been charged with murder and authorities have taken three others into custody. It remains unclear exactly how many individuals were involved.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already promised to address the nation’s gun laws, stating in a broadcasted address, “Now is the time for change.”