The terror of yet another mass killing struck in the heartland of the United States on Aug. 5, when alleged shooter Wade Michael Page opened fire in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. Oak Creek is a suburb of about 35,000, located 12 miles south of Milwaukee. Six people were killed and three were critically injured. According to eyewitnesses, a cop killed Page as he was shooting another police officer.
The shooting spree started a little before 10:30 a.m., an hour before the worship service. Members of the temple had been arriving all morning. The children were in Sunday school, and women congregants were preparing a free luncheon as the gunfire erupted.
The killings took place just 16 days after the massacre in Aurora, Colo., where alleged gunman James Holmes opened fire in a crowded movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring more than 50 others.
The Sikh religion, which is not related to Islam, began about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India and has more than 30 million adherents around the world. Although most Sikhs live in India, the diaspora includes the U.S., with an estimated 3,000 Sikh families residing in southeastern Wisconsin.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Sikhs have been targets of violence by racists and anti-immigrant bigots who confuse them with Muslims — the racists’ intended victims — because of their traditional garb and head turbans. NBC News noted on Aug. 6 that some 700 cases of anti-Sikh violence have been reported in the U.S. since 2001.
It is of utmost importance that all progressive forces, including labor unionists, community and political groups, and religious figures, show strong solidarity with the Sikh community and condemn this hateful attack.
Killer: white supremacist, militarist
In an Aug. 6 press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and bias crimes and movements, Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok called Page a white supremacist and “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.”
They stated: “Wade Michael Page was a member of two racist skinhead bands — End Apathy and Definite Hate, a band whose album ‘Violent Victory’ featured a gruesome drawing of a disembodied white arm punching a Black man in the face. In the drawing, the fist is tattooed with the letters ‘HFFH,’ the acronym for the phrase ‘Hammerskins Forever, Forever Hammerskins.’”
The report noted, “The Hammerskins is a nationwide skinhead organization with regional factions and chapters that once dominated the racist skinhead movement in the United States.”
The day after the shootings, the Pentagon confirmed that Page, 40, was a former “psychological operations specialist” in the U.S. Army, where he served from 1992 to 1998. He reportedly received basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., and then went to Fort Bliss in Texas.
Fort Bragg, N.C., where Page’s military career ended, is home to Army airborne units and its Special Operations Command. The Pentagon says that he was a qualified parachutist, who received numerous commendation and achievement medals, as well as a National Defense Service Medal and a Humanitarian Service Medal.
Page was “kicked out of the Army” because of a “drinking problem,” and had been arrested in several states for driving while intoxicated. NBC News reported FBI spokesperson Theresa Carlson’s statement: “No one else has been associated with the shooting.” Page’s shooting rampage is being investigated as a “possible act of domestic terrorism.” (Aug. 6) Earlier reports had indicated a possible second participant in the shootings.
Behind the killing sprees
It should be no surprise or mystery that within the U.S., especially in the current political climate, these racist, heinous shootings and killings by a neo-fascist former military operative have occurred.
This murderous rampage, like the massacre in Colorado on July 20, has its roots in a society dominated by corporations and the Pentagon. The country is built on racism and genocide, and imbued with entitlement and white supremacist attitudes toward the majority of humankind. It is not in a vacuum that fascists, racist reactionaries and sociopaths feel emboldened to carry out such acts.
The super-rich capitalist ruling class — what the Occupy movement dubbed the 1% — thrives on divide-and-conquer tactics meant to prevent the 99%, the vast majority of workers and oppressed peoples, from uniting to fight for human rights and dignity. This includes the right to a job or income at a living wage; free universal health care; quality, equal public education; a home for everyone; and an end to all forms of discrimination, national oppression, racism, sexism and anti-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer bigotry.
In this era of low-wage capitalism and endless U.S. wars, which suck the lifeblood and money from every city and every social program, neo-fascist elements and ultra-reactionaries are emboldened to organize and strike.
Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement organizer Bryan G. Pfeifer spoke to Workers World about the recent shooting in that state. In February 2011, the state erupted in an ongoing worker rebellion against the racist austerity and union-busting program of Gov. Scott Walker.
“The media is making the shooter out to be an individual acting in a rogue fashion, but that’s incorrect,” said Pfeifer. “This shooting takes place in a state that over the past few years has been known for virulently racist, anti-worker politicians — working for the 1% — and their reactionary actions. These include [U.S. Rep.] Jim Sensenbrenner’s sponsoring of anti-immigrant legislation in 2006; [U.S. Rep.] Paul Ryan’s and [U.S. Sen.] Ron Johnson’s attacks on Medicare and Medicaid; and all of Walker’s racist attacks, from Act 10 to voter ID rules to defunding Planned Parenthood and much more.”
United fightback needed
Pfeifer explains, “Other situations have also contributed to the racist climate in Wisconsin. This includes the ongoing battles over public housing in New Berlin and the building of the new mosque in Brookfield, which was won due to a community fightback by Arab and Muslim people and their supporters. Of course, the police have continued their brutal, ongoing, myriad attacks, on behalf of the 1%, against Milwaukee’s African-American community.
“Workers and progressive people should ask how Page traveled all over the country for years distributing white supremacist material, singing about it in bands and joining groups to harass and threaten people of color, but was never stopped and questioned by the FBI.
“Contrast that to the FBI’s mistreatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters, Muslim communities and international solidarity activists. The government agency has raided, harassed, arrested and indicted many of them.”
Pfeifer stresses, “Last year Nazis announced their recruitment rally in West Allis, Wisc., on Sept. 3, but this was soundly defeated by 2,000 anti-racists who shut down their anti-worker, racist hate. Only a mass, united fightback movement against racism and fascism will stop these elements from engaging in violent, murderous acts of terror.”