The Jewish refugee settlement agency targeted on social media by the man accused of attacking a Pittsburgh synagogue has received an outpuring of support this week, accoording to the group's leaders.
"The response has been absolutely incredible," Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said on "The Rachel Maddow Show." "We have people from all faiths contributing to HIAS. We’ve been getting many calls and letters and emails from ordinary people, by people who have been helped by HIAS, by people whose grandparents were brought by HIAS."
HIAS, the oldest refugee agency in the world, has worked for more than a century to help persecuted Jews resettle in the U.S. Over time, the mission broadened to help refugees worldwide and is among the nine groups that have a contract with the State Department.
The agency, however, has increasingly become a target of right-wing rage and conspiracy theories, according to the Associated Press. Moments before Robert Gregory Bowers opened fire, he left a final message on the social media site Gab, used by many white nationalists.
"HIAS 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," he wrote.
Bowers apparently believed in a conspiracy theory that stated HIAS was behind the Central American migrant caravan making its way through Mexico.
"We were clearly identified as being a motivation for this murderer," said Hetfield. He believes this was due to the group's strong media presence and how it has helped refugees resettle in Pittsburgh in partnership with Jewish Family and Community Services.
HIAS was outspoken about the migrant caravan and stated through a press release that asylum seekers should be able to apply by presenting the claims required by law. The group said all immigrants should be treated humanely.
"I hope this is an opportunity to re-examine how we speak about the other," Hetfield said to Maddow. "That we re-examine how we are fighting hate speech. There is too much space right now for hate and that is what happened here. Hateful speech almost always leads to hateful acts."
Hetfield said there has been an outpouring of support, with over 400 congregations joining the welcome campaign for refugees and a significant increase in donations and volunteers.