It Tolls for Thee


© Jeff Arnold

Nine-year-old little Sarah had lived here all her life and never saw something so horrible. It was like Papa’s chess set. All those people were just praying and worshiping and a man with a gun came in and knocked the pieces down, just like that.

They say he’s a racist and he blamed us for hurting his people. They say guns are too easy to get. At school yesterday, some of the kids said maybe it’s because of who is President, that because he’s the first like him, that maybe he drove this person Dylann Roof crazy. Don’t think so.

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is 100.

I’m going to state for the record that you’re not going to like this. Ever since Donald Trump became President and sent his first tweet, he’s been blamed for just about everything including the recent Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting. But if it is true that all violence since November 2016 is the direct result of Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, then how can we explain all acts of violence before Trump became POTUS? I mean, it’s as if news and social media believe if Trump were silent, or if Hillary Clinton were President, everything would be unimaginably peaceful and the United States would be paradise, just as it was during President Obama’s administration (that last bit was deliberate sarcasm, but to make a point).

So I leveraged the Charleton church shooting (which occurred during Obama’s administration) in which nine African-American worshipers lost their lives at the hands of 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof, who blamed African-Americans for a plethora of ills.

This is not unlike 46-year-old Robert Bowers who blamed George Soros in particular, and the Jewish people in general for hurting “his” people (presumably non-Jewish whites) and (allegedly) murdered eleven Jewish worshipers as a result.

Both Roof and Bowers are extremists who believe a people group was responsible for their problems, and saw gun violence as the only solution. But what was the real cause?

Both incidents are very similar, such as attacking their targets in a house of worship, and openly stating that their motivation was bigoted hate. However, Barack Obama was the President when Roof committed his crime, and Donald Trump is President now. I find it difficult to believe that the sole cause of either man’s heinous acts was the President of the United States.

Could Trump’s statements be somehow inflammatory and a contributing factor in Bowers’s actions? Maybe. There’s no way to tell. There’s no way to tell if he would have done the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won the election.

That’s my point. There’s no way to tell. So don’t be so sure of your assumptions, because that’s all they are. I think a lot of people are taking their current fear and loathing of the President and applying it to any bad event that occurs, no matter what the circumstances and without examining the facts. That’s faulty logic. We need to be better than that.

The bottom line is that innocent people died in both events as the result of a very disturbed bigot. Always blame the person who pulled the trigger, and always mourn the victims and comfort their families. If we all did that, we’d be better people for it, and we’d serve those suffering communities rather than our own fears.

Oh, the title comes from John Donne’s famous poem For Whom the Bell Tolls.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit

85 thoughts on “It Tolls for Thee

    • I can see where some of the issues we’re currently facing as a nation might come from Trump’s rhetoric, but I don’t think he’s the source of all of it. In the end, both Roof and Bowers made personal decisions.


    • The interesting fact here is that I can see where people on the left and the right both sometimes feel empowered to do violence because of Trump, the former in protest against him, and the latter in solidarity. I will say that I’ve never seen a President who seems to have so much power over what people think, feel, and do.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Like others, I don’t think the act of one person was Trump’s fault, but his rhetoric is adding to the mix of toxic feelings – alongside many in the political debate. As President, he has the loudest and most influential voice, and after such events could be doing more to promote a civil and peaceful discourse rather than an abusive one. For example, after the mail bombs last week, he seemed intent on blaming the media and ramping up anger towards them, rather than an unqualified condemnation of the bomber and his acts. I think all in the political, media and social media world really need to take a long look at themselves and ask if they contributed to the society that is being created because of them. They have a responsibility to do that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I was certainly hoping that after he was elected, Trump would put a damper on his big mouth and try at least acting Presidential, but he doesn’t seem to have a filter of any kind (most politicians have a rigorously constructed filter, so you don’t always know what they think or believe), so anything that pops into his head immediately comes out of his mouth or gets tweeted on twitter.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Agree with all this. The person who did the act gets the blame, but we’re all influenced by what we read and hear, some more than others. There’s even a new job now: professional influencer. People get paid to go online and wear certain things and talk about products because it influences the behavior of others to make purchases. We know that people are triggered to eat and drink more by certain suggestions. Kids are susceptible to doing what their peer groups do. Adults too, hopefully to a lesser extent. Politicians and celebs are hugely influential, unfortunately. And the media amplifies what they say by making sure we see it a million times ~ and telling us what the other important people think about what was just said. On and on. It saturates our minds. Now take a guy whose mind is already sick… and he’ll be especially triggered into action of some kind.


    • Marketing has been around for a long time, Paula.

      My Mom tells a story about me when I was about three or four. I watched a lot of TV back then (late 1950s), and whenever we’d go to the store, I’d point to the things I’d seen in TV ads and wanted Mom to buy them, which included such improbable products as cigarettes.

      Fortunately, grew up and realized that just because someone tried to influence my decisions and even my thoughts and feelings, I didn’t have to go along with them. So it goes with whoever is sitting in the Oval Office and all the other politicians.

      As far as some wack job with a gun and a cause, it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So many of these people are looking for “fame” that as far as I am concerned, the media with its desire to sensationalize everything, their need to be first to show something, they put things out that are incomplete and speculation, are far more to blame for the violence than any person sitting in an office. After all, “If it bleeds, it leads” is a accepted truism. 😦

    It won’t stop everything, but if the media would practice restraint, stop jumping to conclusions, stop giving these people free publicity, maybe some of the violence would be reduced.

    Of course having public officials weigh in on on-going investigations, as if they know the truth, does not help. They need to shut up.


  4. In reaction to both the Valentine Day school shooting and this synagogue shooting [and there was a shooting of black people recently that didn’t get as much attention], and with the bomb-mailing suspect, and in general, too many people tried to brush off the alarm and blame the victims by repeating stuff they like to say. One example is if you see something say something. But we are regularly told that the things we see (and hear) are just there: shut up. The political stickers with crosshairs: shut up. A gun club in a school: shut up. Confederate flags and offensive statues and tweets: shut up.


    • Not sure what the issue is about gun clubs in schools. They go back to the and taught gun safety. People commenting at describe different experiences in the US and UK. And according to AP News, there are advocates for gun clubs in schools today as a method of teaching discipline rather than violence.

      I was never in a gun club, but my Dad used to take me target shooting all the time when I was growing up, and I never became violent because of it.


      • I’m not against guns [blanketly that is — while there should be restrictions]. I’m against gun clubs in schools. The kid (or young man who had been a kid at the Stoneman-Douglas high school) had been in a gun club at that school. He arrived at that school that day with a gun bag or duffle bag big enough for guns.


  5. Sunday morning, as Pastor opened our service… he paused as if it took great effort… then he commended us for having the courage to come to service. I hadn’t thought it courageous… just normal… but then, well… about halfway through his sermon on Mark 9: 34-38 it suddenly smacked me between the eyes… the whole reality of it. To follow God…all the way to death… never had it seemed so real…


    • It’s very difficult to absorb that teaching and I’m as guilty of failing that as anymore. Even professing faith, we are very attached to this worldly life because it’s the only one we experience on a daily basis. But that’s what faith is, to see beyond the present and into eternity. This shooting, all of them actually, should bring that point home.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I always wondered why my Gr. Granpa always insisted on sitting in the front of the sanctuary…now, I think I understand his reasoning just a little better, too. From a practical view.


      • He may have been concerned about violence in the church, or maybe he just wanted to see and hear the Pastor’s sermon better.

        Some years ago, I went to a little local Baptist church and subsequently discovered that a number of the older gentlemen were retired law enforcement officers. They carried concealed firearms at church just in case a shooter tried something like this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think this sunday our entire back row was retired law, military… all packing… plus, we had a deputy in the foyer. We’ve had a deputy in the foyer for almost a year, now. I know many carry concealed, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Others have already said it, but Trump promotes division, spreads conspiracy theory lies, turns people against each other. Obama did not of those things. Most violent acts cannot be directly linked to the then president’s rhetoric, but the resent spate of violence can be directly linked to Trump’s rhetoric. To deny that is naive.


    • So there would be no violence if Hillary Clinton were POTUS and Bowers would never have murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Shabbat? You can’t possibly know that for a fact. While I agree Trump is a great divider, to literally lay every socially and politically motivated murder squarely at his feet is reckless, because you can’t know in absolute terms what the actual perpetrators would or wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t the President.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I cannot say that with certainty, but I do believe that Hillary would not be, as Trump is, spewing toxic rhetoric that divides and points the finger at “the other.” I do not believe that Hillary would be proactively creating an environment where white nationalists (i.e., neo Nazis and white supremacists) feel free to come out from under their rocks to march and protest and perpetrate violent behavior.


      • Oh, I agree that Clinton’s communication style is quite different. Like most politicians who have to speak to the concerns of her constituents, she has a filter, although it sometimes leaks. I have no idea what she actually thinks, but I suspect her “deplorables” comment could just be the tip of the iceberg regarding a certain class of Americans.

        If Trump had a filter, he would probably come across quite differently. This wouldn’t change what he thinks, though. At least, for good or, more likely for ill, we always know what he’s thinking because he tells us all the time, and yes, that’s the major difference.

        However, there was a reason why, after much tortured internal debate, I didn’t vote for either of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I voted for Clinton because the alternative — Trump — was, and is, unqualified and unhinged. Knowing that it was going to be either Clinton or Trump, I chose Clinton, the only one of the two who understood the job.


      • Understanding the job doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will be a good President or, for that matter, is a good person. I’m also reminded that Barack Obama was elected for, among other reasons, than he was an outsider, someone who, at least by one definition, doesn’t “know the job,” and that’s considered an advantage.

        I’m reminded of my favorite political joke:

        A bus load of bipartian politicians were driving down a country road when all of a sudden the bus ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. The old farmer after seeing what happened went over to investigate. He then proceeded to dig a hole and bury the politicians.

        A few days later, the local sheriff came out, saw the crashed bus, and then asked the old farmer, “Were they all dead?”

        The old farmer replied, “Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how them politicians lie.”

        The Democrats only put forward Clinton and Sanders, so choices were limited. The Republicans started out with many players on their field, and I can’t imagine how they ended up believing Trump was the best among them. He’s the one GOP candidate Hillary should have been guaranteed to beat, especially since she was struggling under the shadow of more than a few scandals.

        However, she was wildly popular with her fan base, and from every report, even Trump expected her to win. So we traded having a career politician (if you count the number of offices Bill held, since I’m quite sure she used his success to build her own) for the host of a reality TV show.

        And that’s why I didn’t vote for either one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Understanding the job doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will be a good President or, for that matter, is a good person.” Trump is neither a good president nor a good person. There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary would have been better at both.


      • This is the whole “agree to disagree” thing. While I do agree Trump is a loose cannon, Clinton isn’t a good and moral person just because she knows how to mouth progressive talking points. Like I said, I voted for neither for reasons of conscience.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hillary does mouth desired talking points at times, but she and Bill are more conservative than progressive (other than the famous intent of having health care for all and for women at least).


    • That man is an outstanding rabbi.

      People in church and people in a synagogue have a right to arms (with qualified people in qualified places). But don’t confuse that with dying for faith. You wanna be Peter with the sword?


      • No, but there will always be people who oppose us for our faith, and as we sometimes see, a few want to kill us. In other nations, it is actually dangerous to be a Christian or a Jew, so it can happen.


  7. Not that I don’t believe in the power of words or the influence of the President (any President, not just the current loudmouth), but I wrote this wee missive to point out that the objections being registered against “the Donald” are based largely on emotion and a visceral response to Trump’s speeches and tweets, not an objective look at this sort of violence across time, that is, before the Trump administration.

    Marleen mentioned a concern in relation to schools having gun clubs, but back in the 1950s and 60s, high schools had such clubs across the nation, particularly in rural areas, and there was no such thing as mass shootings. Kids with guns didn’t shoot at each other or try to mow down their teachers. They learned discipline, respect, and gun safety.

    From a historical perspective, the first such shooting occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas and it was quite the anomaly. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know), between 1966 and 2012, one-third of the world’s mass shootings occurred in the United States (90 of 292 incidents). While this may add fuel to the idea that lax gun control laws in our nation are a significant contributing factor, it also suggests that what hasn’t changed is access to guns, but people.

    Once upon a time, such crimes would have been unthinkable, even though it was probably easier to access firearms back them, and now they seem all too expected. What changed with human beings, or more specifically Americans? I have no idea, but something has with our cultural values, especially how we perceive the value of life.

    However, what this also illustrates is that there are likely multiple causes that result in this sort of behavior, and even the list that Wikipedia provides (and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the items on the list) of contributing factors from multiple sources does not include the President of the United States or any single influential human being:

    1. Higher accessibility and ownership of guns. The US has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world with 120.5 firearms per 100 people; the second highest is Yemen with 52.8 firearms per 100 people.
    2. Mental illness and its treatment (or the lack thereof) with psychiatric drugs. This is controversial. Many of the mass shooters in the U.S. suffered from mental illness, but the estimated number of mental illness cases has not increased as significantly as the number of mass shootings.
    3. The desire to seek revenge for a long history of being bullied.
    4. Desire for fame and notoriety.
    5. The copycat phenomenon.
    6. Failure of government background checks due to incomplete databases and/or staff shortages.
    7. The widespread chronic gap between people’s expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, and individualistic culture.

    In other words, it’s not as simple as saying “It’s all Trump’s fault.” While in some cases, listening to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, particularly if you already have held extremist views for decades, such as Cesar Sayoc and/or you are mentally ill, could certainly be considered a catalyst. But in any objective sense, it’s impossible to state that the crime(s) would never have occurred if A) Trump had never become President, or B) Trump was President but chose to speak and behave in a more reserved and measured manner.


  8. Repeat (of what someone else said): … Trump promotes division, spreads conspiracy theory lies, turns people against each other. Obama did [none] of those things. Most violent acts cannot be directly linked to the then president’s rhetoric….

    True statement.

    In other words, […] NO ONE SAID “It’s all Trump’s fault.”

    I agree:
    But in any objective sense, it’s impossible to state that the crime(s) would never have occurred if A) Trump had never become President, or B) Trump was President but chose to speak and behave in a more reserved and measured manner.


    Trump admin may change strategy on domestic terrorism — duration about 5:24

    The Trump administration is on the verge of cancelling a grant program aimed at fighting domestic terrorism, including white extremism. Ali Velshi talks to former Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin and MSNBC National Security Analyst Clint Watts [previously an official]. Oct. 31, 2018


  10. Your use of the word disturbed struck me as most apposite. I found your writing on this subject very interesting, as are the comments. There are reasons why events take the course they do and unpicking the threads, which the history books will certainly do, may well make it clearer to everyone how we got in this current place. Placing the blame on one person is just lazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow. Enlightening commentary following a tender piece. I wondered if anyone would tackle this topic this week. Good use of “knocking down the pieces” on the chessboard.

    With respect for the fear these events instill in us, and especially respect for the families of the victims, i just want to add the obvious: that mass shootings, horrible though they are, are but one piece of the US gun violence puzzle, and not a very large piece, compared to total gun deaths.

    The fact that both shootings were blamed on the Commander in Chief in different administrations serves to remind us how this problem is societal,and also a product of our times, not necessarily just a political, problem.

    Im sure by now most everyone in the US has had a gun incident impact their lives, some too close for comfort. It has definitely jarred our sense of security, and our complacency.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Kudos to you for having the courage to say some things that need to be said. Trump-hating seems to have become a national pastime, and it really does nothing but stir up more anger, for which he is then blamed. The rhetoric from the Left isn’t exactly full of sweetness and light, is it?

    I was reading this morning about Conservatives in beleaguered Chicago, where 63 people were killed in one weekend. They were begging President Trump for his help. This has to be the ultimate irony for the Liberals there and all across the country. Chicago has the strongest gun laws in the nation, and the highest murder rate. You’d think people would start putting two and two together. Criminals will never have trouble getting guns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I grew up thinking that very thing — when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. But there are places that have changed their situations, like Australia. Nevertheless, since Americans seem to think God created guns, we will have a tough time changing. When murder is outlawed only outlaws murder. Yet, most people who want gun control don’t want to outlaw guns completely (in this country anyway); it would be good to be safer… for instance to the extent that the saying if you see something say something has more meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suspect this will be an ongoing discussion. It would take an amendment to the Constitution to remove the right to keep and bear arms fro the Second Amendment, and I don’t see that happening quickly or easily.

        Liked by 1 person

    • And now the person in the office of President thinks rocks are arms, so I suppose only outlaws would have rocks if we repealed the second amendment. I personally don’t see rocks as arms but do see things like nuclear weapons as arms. So the question isn’t so much (in my view) about removing a right but determining how to continue the right more safely (within the logic of not letting everyone have a-bombs or bazookas).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bombs and bazookas are already forbidden to private citizens, for whatever good that does. What it boils down to, really, is the heart of mankind. Cain, after all, didn’t have a gun when he killed Able.


      • Of course. It sure does come down to the hearts of people. And yet we have laws. Because we have to deal with the situation we are living in. Forbidding anything from pipe bombs to atom bombs and canons doesn’t break the Second Amendment or require its repeal or the amending of the Constitution.


  13. You probably won’t want to watch at the link, but it is a source.

    David Pakman Show

    I thought it important to convey while we’re on the topoc,
    the dude Pence had pray concerning this subject
    (besides being blatantly inappropriate)
    is someone who was stripped
    of his Messianic ordination five years ago.
    You know this has happened before? Something’s
    wrong with the Republican “picker” in these days/years of late.


  14. Well told with an important message. Ultimately, for some reason our society and society going back a long way now does throw up these extremists every now and again. Why is the big question and has never been properly answered. How do we stop more bigots? Education seems the ultimate answer and leaders can contribute to that in what they do and say and how they say it.


    • There will always be certain people who will pass down their narrow beliefs from one generation or the next. Also, certain forms of mental illness lend themselves to conspiracy theories and the like. And, if you believe in the metaphysical, there is a sense that the world is broken spiritually, and thus some people are going to be vulnerable to evil for its own sake.


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