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By Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lamented the “hate in our country” after the killing of at least eight people in a shooting rampage at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday and asserted that better security at the congregation could have prevented the massacre.
“They had a maniac walk in and they didn’t have any protection and that is so sad to see,” Trump said at Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs before he departed for a campaign swing in the Midwest. “If you take a look at it, if they had protection inside the results would have been far better.”
Trump’s suggestion was similar to his proposal after February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida that schoolteachers should be armed.
He placed the shootings in the context of a long series of violent acts nationally and globally.
“It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world,” the president said. “It’s a violent world. You think when you’re over it, it just goes away but then it comes back in the form of a madman, a wacko.”
Later, at a Future Farmers of America conference in Indianapolis, Trump said the nation and the world are “shocked and stunned” by the “anti-Semitic act” in Pittsburgh — one of several references he made to anti-Semitism.
“You wouldn’t think this would be possible in this day and age but we just don’t seem to learn from the past,” he said, noting that the shootings took place during a baby-naming ceremony at the synagogue. “There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America or anywhere.”
Trump arranged for a pastor and a rabbi to lead the conference in prayers.
Aboard Air Force One, before he arrived in Indianapolis, Trump told reporters he was considering cancelling a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally for later Saturday in Illinois. But by the time he spoke to the FFA group, he had decided to go ahead with the political event.
“At first I was thinking ‘I’ll cancel’ and then I said we can’t let evil change our life and change our schedule,” Trump said. “Otherwise, we give them too much credit, we make them too important.”
Comparing his decision to the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., Trump said he felt duty-bound to hold the rally.
“You go with a heavy heart but you go,” he said. “Not that I want to go. But I think, actually in reverse, (I) have an obligation to go.”
Police have detained a suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh, according to four senior law enforcement officials. Four police officers were injured, according to Wendell Hissrich, the city’s public safety director, who spoke at a news conference.
Trump also said that the death penalty should be more swiftly applied to mass murderers.
“I think they should stiffen up laws, and I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue,” he said.
Asked about his close relationship with the National Rifle Association, Trump emphasized his view that having armed guards at the synagogue might have made a difference — and said it might be necessary to have them at all houses of worship in the United States.
“I hate to think of it that way,” he said. “It’s certainly an option.”
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the murders during an appearance in Las Vegas.
“What happened in Pittsburgh today was not just criminal, it was evil,” Pence said, adding praise for the “swift response” of law enforcement. “There is no place in America for violence or anti-Semitism.”
Pence asked all Americans to pray for those killed or injured in the shooting and their families.