Vigils are being held across the US mourning the six members of the Sikh community killed in a shooting rampage in Oak Creek in suburban Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin on Sunday.
“The one key thing that’s missing in this entire debate is the term “terrorism”… we haven’t heard many American media and socio-political leaders echo that same sentiment [as the authorities]. Imagine if a brown, bearded man walked into a Wisconsin church and killed six white people, would anybody in America even pause to call it an act of terrorism? Absolutely not.“
– Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer
Five men – Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka and Sita Singh – and one woman – Paramjit Kaur – were killed in the shooting.
The alleged gunman, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, was also killed after he opened fire on a police officer. Page was an army veteran who was discharged from the military in 1998. He was also a white supremacist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights group that tracks hate groups in the US, says it has been tracking Page with concern for more than a decade.
Page, who reportedly described himself as a member of the ‘Hammerskins Nation’, was trained in psychological warfare and served in the US army from 1992 before being demoted and discharged in 1998.
US law enforcement says it is treating the attack as a possible act of “domestic terrorism”, which implies a political agenda.
Pete Simi describes Wade Michael Page, the suspected perpetrator in the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting
A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security warned of the rise of right-wing groups fuelled by a struggling economy and the election of Barack Obama, the country’s first black president. The report was criticised by Republicans and later pulled by the department.
But the latest shooting has reignited fears about right-wing extremism.
Pete Simi, the author of American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate, spent an extensive amount of time with Page in 2001 as part of his research into white supremacism.
Earlier he told Al Jazeera: “Page was part of the much larger movement of white supremacists. At that time he was an independent, neo-Nazi skinhead. He shaved his head, was starting to tattoo his body with different symbols. He definitely endorsed a variety of different beliefs such as anti-Semitism, was antagonistic to anything so-called non-white, in particular most of his rhetoric on a regular basis was directed toward blacks.”
“There’s a long-standing precedent in this country of these sorts of acts of white supremacist terror, starting with the founding of this country … exterminating the indigenous population, slavery, Jim Crow, lynching being an American past time … why are we not talking about that?”
– Sonny Singh, a social justice activist
Sikhs in the US have faced widespread harassment since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The SPLC and the Department of Homeland Security have also reported that extremists have been joining the US military.
Inside Story Americas asks: What questions should Americans be asking in the aftermath of this latest shooting?
Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College and author of the book Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today; Sonny Singh, a social justice activist; and Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer and founder of the blog The Muslim Guy.
“For the first time he [Obama] is, as far as the president is concerned, making a link between the various serial acts of violence that take place …. By linking them together he has opened the door for us to have some structural conversations.”
Vijay Prashad, an international studies professor at Trinity College
SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER REPORT:
- The intelligence report says the radical right has been growing for a decade, and did so again in 2011.
- The number of hate groups was found to have risen to 1,018 last year, nearly double since 2000.
- The rise is attributed to economic fears, proliferation of conspiracy theories and the changing racial demographics in the US.
- The center says Obama’s election as the US’ first black president has had the biggest influence on this development.
- The Patriot Movement, a radical anti-government militia, has seen a 755 per cent increase in just the last three years, from 149 groups to more than 1,200 groups in 2011.