An act of hate-filled domestic terror in post-9/11 America.
Since before the opening ceremonies in London, the world has been holding its collective breath, hoping the Olympics would remain safe from terrorism.
Instead, the most recent act of terror to demand the world’s attention unfolded Sunday in an average American suburb when a gunman with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol opened fire at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six and critically injuring three others, including police Lt. Brian Murphy. The shooter was also killed.
The attack happened less than a month after another gunman’s rampage left 12 dead and 58 wounded in a Colorado movie theater. In that case, some of the early reports about James Holmes, the accused killer, were later proven false. After the attack on the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., early speculation about the motives of the gunman, Wade Michael Page, also ran the gamut.
Some news media outlets, religious groups and representatives of the Sikh community said Sikhs were often targeted for harassment after the 9/11 terrorist attacks because people mistook them for Muslims. Shortly after 9/11, a Sikh gas station owner, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was fatally shot in Arizona by a gunman seeking to retaliate against Muslims.
By Monday morning, news reports said that Page, who served in the Army from1992-1998 and who had white supremacist ties. The Southern Poverty Law Center called the 40-year-old gunman a “frustrated neo-Nazi,” while other reports linked him to a neo-Nazi punk band, End Apathy. He rented an apartment five miles from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a sprawling 17,000-square-foot building on a 13-acre site.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that emerged in Punjab, along the borders of modern day India and Pakistan in the 15th century. India’s current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh. Like other Sikh men, he wears a beard and his unshorn hair is wrapped in a turban, which Americans often mistake as a sign of the Islamic faith. Sikhs say their hair isn’t cut out of respect for the natural state in which God created them.
The estimates of the numbers of Sikhs in the United States range from 300,000 to 500,000. Up to 500 Sikh families reside in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Sikhs emphasize peaceful living, promoted through meditation and selfless service to others. Their worship building, called a gurdwara, is central to spiritual activities.
Religious communities throughout the country — Muslims, Catholics and others — were quick to denounce the violence and rally support for the grieving. Just hours after the shootings, hundreds gathered in downtown Milwaukee for a prayer vigil, where some held a lighted sign that read, “Wisconsin weeps.”
“While it is difficult to know what was in the mind of the attacker, it would seem that it was the same mix of fear, ignorance, and bigotry that fuels all violence against individuals or communities of faith,’’ said a statement from the National Council of Churches. “It is our prayer that such acts of terrorism — for they are in fact terrorist acts — become less and less frequent…”
Although much remains to be learned about the horrific crime, the outpouring of support is heartening. As with the rest of America, our thoughts remain with all of those touched by the senseless violence. More tales of heroism also will no doubt emerge, but Lt. Murphy, who was shot eight or nine times while providing aid to a victim, is at the top of our list.
Since 9/11, Americans have been focused like never before on the dangers of international terrorism. While that’s understandable, we are reminded once again that some of this country’s worst acts of violence, such as Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and now the attack in Wisconsin, were committed by our own citizens.
Readers, what do you think? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please fill out this form. Follow us on Twitter @StribOpinion and Facebook at facebook.com/StribOpinion.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.