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Oak Creek – some thoughts

This past Sunday, a man walked into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire with a 9 mm pistol, killing six people and wounding four others. After a firefight with police, he turned his weapon on himself and committed suicide. I learned of this story days after it happened, as I was far away from any news sources. As a result, there is really very little for me to contribute that hasn’t already been highlighted by countless others. I will briefly summarize my thoughts as best I can.

We don’t know that religion motivated these killings

Fred Allen Lucas, a Bloomington, Ind., man who served with Page at Fort Bragg, N.C., in a psychological operations battalion, recalled that he spoke of the need for securing a homeland for white people and referred to all non-whites as “dirt people.” “It didn’t matter if they were black, Indian, Native American, Latin – he hated them all,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he met Page in 1995, the same year that the killings of a black couple in Fayetteville by two members of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg revealed the presence of a white-supremacist movement among soldiers on the base. At the time, Lucas said, Page was covered with tattoos, including one that made a reference to the “14 words,” a phrase used by white supremacists: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

“He criticized me for my attraction to (Latina) women,” Lucas said. “He’d call me a ‘race-traitor.’ He said I should change my ways because I was a blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy, and I shouldn’t be wasting myself on that.”

Pretty much everyone is looking to anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States as an explanation for Wade Michael Page, the (alleged)* shooter’s, actions. The thought process is, I suppose, that this was yet another example of a society so paralysed by its fear of Islam that it lashes out at innocent people with no Islamist agenda. Of course, in our zeal to put together a coherent explanation of why someone would commit mass murder, we reach for the closest plausible explanation – that he confused Sikhs with Muslims.

The problem is, we don’t really have any evidence whatsoever that he was especially anti-Muslim. From what his former comrade says, Page hated everybody. The gurdwara might have just been closest to his home, he might have had a specific issue with one of the congregants, or he may have just found it a convenient place where he knew that a large group of brown people was going to be.

The interesting question to ask here is not whether a specific, conscious hatred of Muslims propelled Page into his act, but rather whether the latent Islamophobia that suffuses American life has affected their (our) response to this tragedy. Do news outlets cover it differently? Do we laypeople view it as less tragic? Do we satisfy ourself with the easy explanations or treat this seriously? Does the Sikh-ness of the victims sufficiently ‘other’-ize them enough to make this tragedy somehow less important than the similar shooting a week before?

White supremacy is not the relic of a bygone era

The local Sikh community in Milwaukee had been raising concerns about racial harassment, targeting, and violence for at least the past year. The Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents of anti-Sikh hate crimes in the U.S. since 9/11. One of those was 49-year-old Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first post 9/11 hate-crime fatality. He was shot five times on September 15, 2001 in Mesa, AZ and his murderer Frank Silva Roque admitted that he killed Sodhi because he was dark, bearded, and wore a turban. White supremacy is fostered, cultivated, condoned, and supported–in the education system and mainstream corporate media, from military missions to the prison industrial complex.

The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism. People of colour face legislated racism from immigration laws to policies governing Indigenous reserves; are discriminated and excluded from equitable access to healthcare, housing, childcare, and education; are disproportionately victims of police killings and child apprehensions; fill the floors of sweatshops and factories; are over-represented in heads counts on poverty rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, and high school dropout rates. Colonialism has and continues to be shaped by the counters of white men’s civilizing missions. The occupation of Turtle Island is based on the white supremacist crime of colonization, where Indigenous lands were believed to be barren and Indigenous people believed to be inferior. The occupation of Afghanistan has been justified on the racist idea of liberating Muslim women from Muslim men. Racialized violence has also always targeted places of worship–the spiritual heart of a community. In Iraq, for example, the US Army accelerated bombings of mosques from 2003-2007 with targeted attacks on the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosqueAbu Hanifa shrineKhulafah Al Rashid mosque and many others. And so I repeat: the patterns of hate crimes have a sense, have a logic, have a structure – they are part of a broader system of white supremacy.

This exerpt is from Vancouver’s Harsha Walia, who I’ve talked about before on this blog. I cannot find enough positive things to say about her, and while we sometimes disagree, it is usually because I am wrong.

Page was an open and notorious white supremacist who frequented online forums that specifically advocated the establishment of America as a white homeland. He did not much care to hide his beliefs either, talking openly to friends about them. He was, more or less, the archetype of “a racist”, at least of the kind that is referred to colloquially.

White supremacy is not some kind of quaint chapter from our society’s dark past. This kind of odious, overt, explicit white supremacy is (thankfully) rarer than it once was, but there is a far more insidious and far-reaching white supremacy at work in everyday life that is rarely identified as such, aside from a handful of sociologists. Until we get a handle on learning to recognize and combat it, it will continue to fuel the rage-filled and conscious white supremacy of a guy like Wade Michael Page. This wasn’t a random and inexplicable act – it is the inevitable consequence of the insane collision-course upon which we are currently steered toward racist self-annihilation.

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*not that there is anything even approaching reasonable doubt – people saw him doing it.