The FBI announced on Wednesday that 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, the shooter who killed six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, died due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. While Page’s death complicates efforts to determine motivation, Sunday’s shooting has been classified as an act of domestic terrorism by the FBI.
The Sikh temple shooting is not only a frightening display of religious and cultural intolerance, but also a terrifying reminder of what white supremacists and the hate groups that they feed off of are capable of doing.
Always hiding in the shadows of our communities, white supremacists are a dangerous sleeping giant in America. And for too long, our government has failed to admit that these hate groups are a prevailing threat to our country and its people. Tragically, it takes incidents like this one to bring it to the forefront of the FBI and the public’s attention.
According to the Religion News Service, “Page had immersed himself in a skinhead music scene that is small yet virulent and off the radar screen of most Americans. Even so, the loosely aligned movement is active enough to alarm those who monitor hate groups and believe their activity is on the rise.”
While the temple shooting may be deemed a rare, horrific occurrence, it reflects the fact that racial hatred is as American as apple pie, and it requires systematic solutions to address it. Hate is an eminent threat in America and it must be fought on American soil with the same persistence used to combat foreign enemies.
It is not enough to monitor hate groups once they are in formation and operating on a widespread scale; we should be investing in prevention strategies. What is our government’s responsibility in ensuring that cultural diversity education becomes a curriculum requirement in American public schools? Are there ways to identify the mental health needs of repeat criminal offenders before it’s too late? How do we treat and minimize substance abuse rather than simply criminalizing it? Can we better regulate the role of corporation and the music industry in mass dissemination of music that is likely to incite hate crimes?
Conor Friedersdor wrote a very prolific op-ed in The Atlantic about how our nation’s post-9/11 mindset on terrorism leads Americans to have a different response when the terrorist is white. He argues that the tragedy will not only go underreported in the media, but that it will also not evoke the same national horror that the violent rampage in Aurora, Colo., did just a week prior.
This is a challenge to us all, as Americans, to reconceptualize terrorism. We must acknowledge that there is no face we can place on our vision of a terrorist that will allow us to better sleep at night. In the end, we will always stand in solidarity with the victims of a hate crime, knowing that it can so easily be us next time.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder and editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter: @RahielT .