America's premier civil rights group has urged authorities to probe the Wisconsin Gurudwara shooting incident as a "potential hate crime"
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who had been tracking the alleged gunman, Wade Michael Page, 41, for quite some time now, alleged he was a “white supremacist skinhead” and a leader of “End Apathy”, a white power music band affiliated with the Hammerskins, a longstanding hardcore racist skinhead group with a history of violence an hate crimes.
“We are deeply shocked by this heinous act of violence against peaceful innocent Americans targeted at their house of worship, apparently singled out because of their faith and appearance that makes them appear different from other Americans,” said Abraham H Foxman, ADL National Director.
“We strongly condemn violence against any religious group and we are confident that federal, state and local law enforcement officials are closely examining the possibility that this was a hate crime,” he said.
Page, who sometimes referred to himself by the pseudonym “Jack Boot,” is festooned with white supremacist tattoos, including a Nazi Death’s Head tattoo and a Hammerskins tattoo, ADL said.
According to ADL, his band has been featured at many Hammerskin-organized white power music concerts in recent years, including the August 2010 “Meet & Greet BBQ & Bands in North Carolina, the Hammerskins’ St. Patty’s Day Show in March 2011 in Orlando, Florida, and Hammerfest 2011 in October 2011, also in Orlando.
“Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ADL and law enforcement officials have documented many apparent “backlash crimes” directed at Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Americans,” Abraham H Foxman said. “We have raised concern about a spike in bigotry against Muslims and others perceived to be of West Asian origin.
This attack is another gruesome reminder that bigotry and hate against those whose religion makes them “different or “other” can have deadly consequences,” he added.
According to ADL, the US Department of Justice has investigated over 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of West Asian origin.
In a statement, the Consulate General of India in San Francisco said he is deeply saddened by the senseless act of violence perpetrated at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple where a gunman needlessly took the lives of six peaceful worshippers and injured many.
“Our prayers and condolences go out to families and friends of the victims,” it said.
In an unprecedented move, on August 6 the California State Assembly passed a Resolution recognising India’s Independence Day and urged all Californians to join in celebrating the diversity of cultures. During that time, Assembly Speaker, John Perez, echoing the sentiments of the House, expressed anguish at this senseless act of violence and the loss of innocent lives. The entire Assembly observed a minute’s silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
In Sacramento, Kazman Zaidi, President of the Taxi Cab Association, led a rally of Sikhs in the region to show support for the victims of the recent Wisconsin shooting. There was an interfaith meeting of the community members.
“People look and think ‘Oh, he has a towel on his head, he must be just like Osama Bin Laden,’” taxi driver Harbhajan Singh said, pointing to his turban. Sacramento Bee said in a report that after 9/11, members of the Sikh community have suffered harassment on being from confused as Muslims.
Expressing strong condemnation, the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) said it considers the shootings as unforgivable and unjustified criminal action directed to create fear among innocent citizens.
“We join with several community organisations and agencies in our condemnation as we share the pain and anguish of our brethren and sisters in the USA,” GOPIO said.
The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) - USA demanded that Barack Obama administration take concrete steps to curb such acts of domestic terrorism against Sikhs who are mistaken for Afghans or Taliban because of their appearance and dress code.
“This is a shame that in the most developed, educated and prosperous nation in the world such gruesome incidents occurring at regular intervals. It is time that the laws to provide dangerous weapons for all must be amended,” it said.
New York Representative Joseph Crowley said the Wisconsin Gurudwara shooting appears to be a “probable” racist attack and expressed concern that such attacks against the Sikh-American community are no longer isolated incidents but represent a “violent trend“.
Joseph Crowley, a leader on Sikh-American issues in the Congress, met members of the community at a Gurudwara here and said the violent rampage is another attack on “our Sikh brothers and sisters”, on a peaceful religious institution.
“This is another attack that aims to chip away at the heart of America. The truth is, there is still a lot we do not know. Was this person mentally unstable? We still do not know. Was he racist? That is probable, and we will learn more in the coming days,” Joseph Crowley, who was joined by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Senator Michael Gianaris, said.
Joseph Crowley described the number of attacks on Sikh-Americans over the past year as “a matter for very, very serious concern” and the nation cannot pretend that the attacks are a one-time incident.
“These attacks and many more do not represent an isolated incident, they represent a violent trend, aimed at a discreet population, that must be confronted and brought to an end,” he said.
He pointed out that in the past one year, there was a vicious attack on a New York transit employee, two Sikh-Americans were murdered in California and a gurdwara in Michigan was defaced.
Joseph Crowley said he has been working closely with his fellow Congressmen to ensure that the federal government documents crimes committed against Sikhs.
“It is not happening now, and it must start happening soon,” he said.
In April, Joseph Crowley led a letter signed by 93 members of the Congress urging the FBI to document and quantify the commission of hate crimes against Sikh-Americans.
Meanwhile, prominent Sikh civil rights group The Sikh Coalition said there is growing consensus among members of the Sikh community that the Wisconsin shooting was a hate crime.
“While we understand that all facts are yet to be determined, there is a growing consensus that hate was a significant motivator in what happened in the Oak Creek Gurdwara on Sunday,” its Executive Director Sapreet Kaur said.
“If, as it now seems, hate is confirmed as the motivation for what happened here, it is important that we redouble our collective efforts to build a nation where this type of racial and ethnic hate has no sanction,” Sapreet Kaur added.
The Coalition, in collaboration with local Sikh leaders and other groups, will hold interfaith vigils in 25 states across the country today in an effort to coordinate a multi-faith nationwide remembrance for the shooting victims.
“As our nation still struggles to comprehend what happened and we continue to support the victims and their families, it’s important to send a clear and unified message to those who attempt to divide us with these senseless acts of violence”.