A Sikh man Cries outside the Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin
We don’t know much yet but when we do my guess is that we will not like what we see.
Today a yet unnamed gunman who according to the FBI had White Supremacist tattoos on his body walked into the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin. The man killed 6 people and wounded many more who had simply come to worship. When police responded he shot and wounded an officer who returned fire and killed him.
Because of the tattoos FBI and police believe that the man may be White Supremacist of some sort. The have made no concrete announcements about the motive or if the man was a member of a White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi group but it appears that the investigators are looking strongly in that direction. We will find out more about him in the coming days but if the initial reports are accurate it paints a chilling picture of a movement that is becoming more widespread and more violent.
Sikhs are one of the earliest non-European immigrant groups to the United States. From the Punjab area of India they have frequently been attacked because they look different. Observant Sikh men do not cut their hair, keep a beard and wear a turban. As such they are often believed to be Moslems and since the September 11th 2001 attacks have suffered much abuse as well as been the victims of violence including murder.
Sikhs along those that they are commonly mistaken, Moslems and Arab Americans in general, as well as Indians, Pakistanis, and other non-European ethnicity Americans are often looked upon with suspicion, mistrust and hatred. This is fed by frequent attacks in right wing media demonizing them as “the enemy within” and the ravings of certain McCarthyesque politicians and pundits.
Sikhs, though peaceful and law abiding citizens often get caught in the Xenophobic hatred of “the other,” they are not “real Americans.” The fact is Sikhs look different. They are a very visible expression of ‘the other” that politicians, pundits and preachers of the American right wing love to demonize. It doesn’t matter that they are not Moslems and had no part in 9-11, they just wear turbans and loose fitting clothes and are a bit darker than most of us.
But going beyond the now normal xenophobia which is more driven by hate mongers that stir up fear and loathing is the absolute hatred for non-white minorities exhibited by White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and Skinheads.
There are over well over 1000 known hate groups spanning ranging from traditional groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis to the Nation of Islam. The numbers, especially in White Supremacist groups has risen dramatically since 9-11, roughly 69% since then. Violence has been a long established tactic of these groups. When one takes the already existing hate group ideology and marries it to the xenophobic rantings of the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who rail against anyone who is not like them it is not surprising that attacks like this occur. I am just surprised that they don’t happen more often. But then again maybe this is just the beginning.
Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are also beginning to make a push to get elected to local political offices and to grow their political power from “the ground up” according to Don Black, the founder of the Neo-Nazi group Stormfront. Brian Culpepper of the National Socialist Movement in Tennessee claims that his group is entering the political process by stealth: “We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access….” and that “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,…And they don’t even know it.” Black of Stormfront notes that many White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis followers are involved with the Tea Party movement but don’t feel that Tea Party leadership “is skittish when it comes to talking about racial realities.” He believes that this will mean that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis may have to go it alone.
Today a lot of people, thankfully across the political spectrum are denouncing the brutal attack and murder of the members of the Oak Creek Sikh community. Hopefully it cause us to remember that words and ideology do have meaning and can bring people to do heinous crimes. We quite readily condemn the actions of Moslem extremists and terrorists. However we should condemn all that preach and practice the art of hate. The fact is that all hate groups and other terrorists regardless of their ideology are the same kind of animal. The sooner that we realize that the better.
Having been accosted and threatened by Neo-Nazis in the past I find this troubling. This is not an innocent movement. It grows by sowing fear and hatred. The Nazis in Germany singled out the Jews and linked them to every imaginable evil including Socialism and Communism. If you read the histories of the Nazi period, especially their political and propaganda campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s before they came to power one can see many similarities with the growing numbers of people taking part in or tacitly approving of the racist hate messages being spouted today.
Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call to those that have for whatever reason succumbed to the message of the hate mongers and help bring us back to a sense of shared American values of tolerance and community.
We will find out more in the coming days. Right now we know little about the man or his motivation for killing the Sikhs of Oak Creek. But if the attacker was indeed a member of or sympathizer with a Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist as early reports suggest who is also linked to the mainstream political right it suggests a bigger problem than we want to think about.
There will be more on this to come I’m sure and I don’t think that we will like when we find out.