The Terror Attack in the Temple

Over at Lawfare yesterday, a Sikh Notre Dame professor, Naunihal Singh, argued that the media have treated the Oak Creek attack as a singularly Sikh tragedy, not an American one.

The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora. Only one network sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks gave the murders in Wisconsin the kind of extensive coverage that the Colorado shootings received. The print media also quickly lost interest, with the story slipping from the front page of the New York Times after Tuesday. If you get all your news from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” you would have had no idea that anything had even happened on August 5th at all.

The tragic events in the Milwaukee suburb were also treated differently by political élites, many fewer of whom issued statements on the matter. While both Presidential candidates at least made public comments, neither visited, nor did they suspend campaigning in the state even for one day, as they did in Colorado. In fact, both candidates were in the vicinity this weekend and failed to appear. Obama hugged his children a little tighter after Aurora, but his remarks after Oak Creek referred to Sikhs as members of the “broader American family,” like some distant relatives. Romney unsurprisingly gaffed, referring on Tuesday to “the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple.” Because the shooting happened in Paul Ryan’s district, the Romney campaign delayed announcement of its Vice-Presidential choice until after Ryan could attend the funerals for the victims, but he did not speak at the service and has said surprisingly little about the incident.

As a result, the massacre in Oak Creek is treated as a tragedy for Sikhs in America rather than a tragedy for all Americans. Unlike Aurora, which prompted nationwide mourning, Oak Creek has had such a limited impact that a number of people walking by the New York City vigil for the dead on Wednesday were confused, some never having heard of the killings in the first place.

I absolutely agree with his assessment of media attention, and I agree that the differential attention stems from real discomfort (which is a polite word for ignorance, maybe) about Sikhism. It was all the media could do to explain that Sikhs weren’t Muslim, by which I actually think they meant well, but which betrayed horrible things about their views both of Muslims and turbans.

But I don’t agree, exactly, that politicians stayed away (or didn’t publicize their attendance at the memorial, in the case of Ryan) because of their unfamiliarity with Sikhs. I don’t think any of the Presidential and Veep candidates are as unfamiliar with Sikhs as the media are, for example.

Rather, I think it has to do with the political role of terrorism.

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Racial Profiling Is Wrong, Sometimes

The NYT has a long article revealing that TSA officers in Boston were profiling people of color as part of its behavior detection program.

In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

It’s an important article that deserves attention, particularly given the White House’s practice of refusing to let citizens use the White House’s own accountability mechanisms to complain about the TSA, as happened Friday when it took down its petition process just before the petition attained the signatures that would have elicited a White House response.

But the article dissolves into hilarity around about paragraphs 35 and 36, when the article quotes a noted civil libertarian assailing racial profiling.

Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who has pushed for more aggressive counterterrorism measures, said he was troubled by the reports of profiling in Boston.

“If it is going on, it is wrong and can’t be defended,” Mr. King said.

Peter King?!?! The NYT quotes Peter King worrying about racial profiling without noting that with King’s rabid support the NYPD has turned the Gray Lady’s own city in to the poster child for illegal racial profiling? Without noting that King has turned the House Homeland Security Committee into an instrument of racial profiling? C’mon, NYT, you can’t be unaware that these comments, from King, are not credible!

Or maybe they are. After all, since Wade Page’s attack on a Sikh temple brought increased focus on the threat represented by white supremacists, King has faced calls to hold hearings on the radicalization of white people, just like he held a never-ending series of hearings on the radicalization of Muslims. Maybe King has thought about how inappropriate it would be to suggest all white people–or even all white supremacists–might be terrorists. Maybe King has developed a new found hatred of racial profiling now that there’s good reason white people might be targeted.

But you’d think the NYT would want to explain why a local Congressman’s statements conflict so dramatically with his past actions.

This Time, We Were Warned

I noted after the Aurora shooting that trying to make sense of senseless violence gives us a way to avoid confronting what Michael Moore described as our culture’s violent nature.

But this time around, the documented ties between the killer, Wade Michael Page, and Neo-Nazi groups provides an easy narrative.

Which deservedly focuses attention–not just on our easy gun culture and our propensity to translate insecurities into hate–on the warnings we had, both about Sikhs being targeted by hate groups and about the military’s struggle to keep white supremacists out of the military and away from recruiting veterans.

92 Members of Congress ask the FBI to start tracking Sikh hate crimes

It was just a few months ago, after all, that 92 members of Congress (with Dan Lungren as the only Republican) sent a letter to Eric Holder noting that Sikhs are among the most commonly targeted for hate crimes (largely because of the turbans they wear), and asking him to add Sikhs to the FBI’s hate crime data collection form.

White supremacists increasingly recruit veterans

Meanwhile, both the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has temporarily crashed) and the FBI have revealed that they knew of Page and his white supremacist leanings.

It’s unclear whether Page embraced racism during his service or afterwards. He served at Fort Bragg at the same time as a group of skinheads committed murders in the area. And he was discharged because of misconduct.

At the same time, the FBI and DHS have collected increasing evidence that white supremacists are recruiting veterans, largely to capitalize on their training.

Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extrem ist move m e nt. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color. FBI cases also document instances of active duty military personnel having volunteered their professional resources to white supremacist causes.

Now, as I said, none of this makes the killing of a bunch of people as they prepare to worship any more logical. It’s ultimately almost certainly about hate, albeit hate that was public and known.

But it’s also an indicator that the almost unitary focus on Muslim terrorism ignores a lot of dangers. Some of that is definable and easy to see, such as the hatred of Wade Page. Some of it is harder to understand, such as the seeming pathology of James Holmes.

Either way, too many people are engaging in senseless violence in our country, and we’re not doing the obvious things to stop it.