St. Louis Jews Provide Emergency Refuge to Protesters, #GasTheSynagogue Trends in Response

Protesters fleeing tear gas and rubber bullets are granted shelter, but people online are swift to draw on Holocaust imagery to goad the police

Law enforcement officials walk down a residential street after firing tear gas at protesters in St. Louis, Missouri, September 15, 2017.
Law enforcement officials walk down a residential street after firing tear gas at protesters in St. Louis, Missouri, September 15, 2017. Whitney Curtis/REUTERS

Demonstrations Friday night, following a racially sensitive verdict and police efforts to control them, led to anti-Semitic imagery to trend on Twitter.

With violence breaking out between protesters and police in riot gear on the streets of a Missouri city, the Central Reform Congregation of St. Louis opened its doors on the Jewish Sabbath to provide sanctuary to those caught up in the confrontation.

As penned-in protesters piled in, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police reportedly surrounded the synagogue and prepared to fire tear gas at those who had taken refuge within. The night's goings-on being widely shared live on social media, a Twitter hashtag calling for the police to breach the Jewish house of worship began to trend: #GasTheSynagogue.

On Friday, white former city policeman Jason Stockley, 36, was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black 24-year-old, shot to death on December 20, 2011. That night, the protests turned violent after police confronted a small group of demonstrators – three years after the police shooting of another black suspect in the nearby suburb of Ferguson stirred nationwide anger and debate.

As police reportedly closed in on protesters in the vicinity of the synagogue, CRC's Rabbi Susan Talve chose to open the doors to provide the protesters with a place to take refuge. Mark Loehrer, a graduate student of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, tweeted that Talve said that "we are guests of @CRCStLouis and they will protect us."

Crowds poured in, with many activists tweeting images and videos of the police approaching the building with tear gas. Some online apparently found the urge to connect people seeking safety in a Jewish house of worship with the Nazi death camps too great to restrain themselves, and thus the offensive hashtag was born.

It appears that the police did not take the advice of those tweeting the offensive slogan, with many later posted their appreciation for the refuge the synagogue had provided them. With the Jewish High Holy Days beginning this week, one congregant who tweeted much of the ordeal shared the worshippers' nickname for the building: "Sukkat Shalom" – "Shelter of Peace."