At 6:56 p.m. that same day, Penn Democrats posted a Facebook statement about the tragedy signed by the majority of the executive board.
The post quickly turned into a flashpoint in a tense debate between Democrats and Republicans, both at Penn and across the country, on issues such as the the politicization of tragedies, anti-Semitism, and the actions of President Donald Trump.
The statement started by addressing the attack: "It is impossible to convey how saddened we are by the shooting that took place this morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh," it read. In the next paragraph, the statement pivots to President Trump, writing, "When an attack motivated by anti-Semitism occurs, it would be foolish to ignore the context that leads to such terrorism. The President of the United States has a history of tacit support of white supremacist ideologies."
Penn Dems President and Wharton junior Dylan Milligan said the group intended to clearly communicate these two messages.
“We wanted to bring up important conversations to be had surrounding the [Republican] party, and particularly Donald Trump, and ties to anti-Semitic elements in this country,” said Milligan. “Trump has fostered an environment that is emboldening anti-Semitism and the statistics don’t lie.”
According to a report conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, 2017 saw the highest number of American anti-Semitic hate crimes in decades with a 57 percent increase from 2016.
The post laid “dormant” for around two to three hours, Milligan said, but at 10:12 p.m., the Facebook page "Young, Black and Conservative" shared the post, sparking an outburst in reactions and comments. According to its Facebook profile, "Young, Black and Conservative" has over 35,000 likes and is "dedicated to promoting Liberty through Conservative Christian values in the black community."
As of 9:50 p.m. on Oct. 29, Penn Dems' original post was shared 126 times and had 53 comments, most of which have been penned by non-Penn conservatives critical of the statement. Some comments critiqued Penn Dems for "politicizing the tragedy" and called them “despicable."
Early on, Penn Dems page administrators attempted to delete comments that featured profane language and name-calling, Milligan said. The group later decided against deleting any comments.
The student group, Penn College Republicans, also commented, "No need to delete, we already got the receipts," in reference to the comments Penn Dems deleted. This comment from the College Republicans has since been deleted.
College Republicans interim President and College senior Richard Murphy declined to comment on the issue.
“The posts speak for themselves. We have no further comments,” Murphy said.
The barrage of reactions inspired College senior Rachel Pomerantz to write a subsequent Facebook post. Pomerantz, the former president of Penn Dems, said she was not involved with the original post or the deleting of comments.
“It’s important to recognize the mass murder that happened on Saturday was not a weather event, it was not a natural disaster: it was a slaughter of 11 people and a carrying out of a political ideology — anti-Semitism,” Pomerantz said in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian. “‘Let’s not politicize this,' is a comforting phrase for those who already have the political power in this situation, and it does a disservice to those who are still affected by all the political circumstances that led to Saturday.”
Amid the controversy, Milligan said he stood by the Penn Dems post.
“I do think this statement in particular was how we as a club wanted to address the crisis,” Milligan said. “There is a relationship between their mainstream dialogue and what the perpetrator of the tragedy was espousing as well, and that’s what we are trying to point out in the post. It’s a little sad and upsetting to see how hard it is for Republicans to hold the president accountable for his tacit support of white supremacists and Nazis.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.