Thousands of protesters holding signs reading ”TRUMP’S LIES KILL” and “TRUMP LOVES NAZIS” greeted the President and his family on Tuesday, as they visited the synagogue where 11 worshippers were shot dead at the weekend.
The trip to Pittsburgh, which sources said congressional leaders of both parties declined to join, came as Donald Trump drew widespread disapproval for inflammatory rhetoric that critics said may have helped provoke the deadliest attack ever on American Jews.
Earlier in the week, the city’s mayor said the planned visit would be ill-timed and urged Trump not to visit “while we are burying the dead,” so the attention would remain on the victims and their funerals.
Taking no notice of the objections, Trump visited the Tree of Life temple where Saturday’s shooting rampage occurred, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his daughter and son-in-law, who are Jewish and serve as White House advisers, were also present, Reuters reports.
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They were greeted by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who led them inside the temple to light ritual yahrzeit candles in memory of the victims.
Emerging about 18 minutes later, the couple walked to a memorial outside the building, where the first lady placed a flower and the president placed a small stone on a marker for each of the dead.
Trump, who according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, described his visit as “very humbling and sad,” left in his motorcade after about 30 minutes at the synagogue.
He made no public remarks.
“He wanted today to be about showing respect for the families and the friends of the victims as well as for Jewish Americans,” Sanders said.
Several thousand protesters, an ethnically mixed crowd of all ages including members of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community, held an anti-Trump rally about a block away from the synagogue just as his visit began, singing Old Testament psalms and carrying signs with slogans such as “We build bridges not walls.”
Many of their signs carried slogans and imagery invoking one of Squirrel Hill’s most famous residents, the late Fred Rogers, whose long-running children’s television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” featured lessons on friendship and kindness.
Their march started on the street where he grew up and ended at the church where he belonged.
The first funerals for the victims of the attack were held earlier on Tuesday. More than 1,800 people, some from across the United States, came to pay respects to relatives of David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59, at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in the Squirrel Hill district that forms the heart of the city’s Jewish community. Police officers were posted outside the temple.
The brothers, who lived at a home for people with disabilities, were among the 11 mostly elderly congregants killed when a gunman stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on worshipers.
The accused gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, was charged on Monday with 29 federal felony counts, including hate crimes, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The attack has heightened a national debate over Trump’s rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity. The Trump administration has rejected the notion he has encouraged far-right extremists who have embraced him.