Following the mass shootings on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, and just hours later in Dayton, Ohio, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) had a lot to say.
Addressing pews packed with Jews, Christians and Muslims at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Aug. 5, Schiff denounced white supremacy, accused President Donald Trump of fomenting division and called on his colleagues in the Senate to pass common sense gun legislation.
“I wish this was not such a timely discussion, but after the terrorist attack in El Paso, where a white supremacist killed 22 people and injured many more, there is no escaping the clear and present danger of white supremacist violence in the United States and the terrible urgency to confront it,” Schiff said. “Simply put, it’s domestic terrorism.”
Schiff’s headlining appearance at the public forum, titled “Countering White Supremacy,” was coordinated by faith-based organizations IKAR, All Saints, the Islamic Center of Southern California and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) long before the weekend attacks. The tragedies were on the minds of all the panelists, including All Saints Rector Mike Kinman, musician activist Andre Henry and Brooke Wirtschafter, director of community organizing at IKAR.
Moderating the panel, MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati read from Trump’s televised statement from earlier that day condemning “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” as “sinister ideologies [that] must be defeated.”
Schiff, however, was not impressed. “Condemnations of white supremacist ideology ring hollow when they are bookended by tweets using the same language white supremacists use,” he said. “I don’t expect Trump to change. It’s up to us to mobilize, organize and demand better.”
Asked by Al-Marayati if he thought there was any chance for bipartisan action on some of the issues raised by Trump, Schiff said in normal times he would think so, but these are not normal times.
“We know implicitly courage is contagious. We have learned that so is cowardice,” Schiff said. “And there has been a contagion of cowardice in our Congress in the utter unwillingness to stand up to this president in any meaningful way. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle know how wrong and how repugnant the president’s actions are. They understand the damage he is doing to this country but they refuse to do anything about it. They will express their private misgivings, but frankly, I am fed up with private misgivings.”
With the recent deadly shootings at the Chabad of Poway and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the panelists weighed the threat white supremacy and domestic terrorism pose to synagogues and other religious institutions.
“I wish this was not such a timely discussion, but after the terrorist attack in El Paso, where a white supremacist killed 22 people and injured many more, there is no escaping the clear and present danger of white supremacist violence in the United States and the terrible urgency to confront it.” — Rep. Adam Schiff
In the Los Angeles Jewish community, armed guards stationed at the entrances of synagogues have been a reality ever since a white supremacist opened fire on the North Valley JCC 20 years ago, Wirtschafter said, adding that while guards may make synagogue-goers feel more secure, any motivated and armed individual could pull off an attack against a house of worship, guards or no guards.
“It is mostly ‘security theater,’ unfortunately,” Wirtschafter said. “If somebody is really coming after us with a machine gun, they will be able to get in and kill a lot of people. We make ourselves feel a little better maybe by putting that security guard at the door but, ultimately, I don’t think it makes us safer, and I think it drains resources we can be spending on something else. I think it frightens people away who want to have doors open to be able to welcome people.”
The wide-ranging discussion also explored how gun violence has affected the African American community, with Henry, a racial justice activist, highlighting the distrust that the community feels toward law enforcement.
Striking a more optimistic note, Kinman said, “If people can be radicalized to extremist hate, then people can be radicalized to radical love.”
Rev. Gary Bernard Williams of Saint Mark United Methodist Church, who attended the event, told the Journal that people from different backgrounds have to come together despite their differences if any change is going to happen.
“Most people look at differences more than similarities and we need to look at the similarities rather than the differences,” Williams said. “If we can do that, we can build the community up, which I believe God intended for us to do.”
Anastacia Stewart, an Eagle Rock resident, echoed his remarks. The member of First Congregational Church in Pasadena — who wore a T-shirt proclaiming “This nightmare must end. The Trump and Pence regime must go” — said she was inspired by the forum.
“I thought the best thing is we were called to individual action of our own, regardless of what our religious affiliation is, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish,” Stewart said. “The way things will go will be up to us. I appreciate Adam Schiff being so down to earth, caring and forthright.”
Not everyone was so taken with the Jewish congressman, however. At the end of Schiff’s panel, a man stood up and yelled, “Are you afraid of the president? When will you hold the president accountable?” before security escorted him out of the building.
Rabbi Len Muroff, a chaplain and IKAR member, remembers too well how his now 25-year-old daughter was taking swimming lessons at the North Valley JCC the day before the 1999 shooting there. Consequently, white supremacy “has been on my mind for 20 years,” Muroff said. “This is a cancer in the body of the American populace that has to be rooted out.”
Speaking with the Journal following the panel, Schiff said he believed Congress would eventually pass what he called “common sense gun legislation,” despite years of inaction.
“The only question,” Schiff said, “is how many more lives will be lost before the members of the Senate do the right thing.”