- Posted August 15, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Colorado movie theater shooting
White Supremacist Hit Colorado and Wisconsin- Different Responses
Strange are ways of media and politicians. But when the cool laser beam is directed at the different approaches, then subtle nuances appear and tragedies that are apparently similar in nature yet receive treatment that materially differs. Why? and how? This is the question that faces us. Does the impact change according to color or faith, despite all the politically correct statements?
The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora. Only CNN 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. Just a couple of days after six people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the story became just one item among many in the national news cycle — a stark contrast to the flood of media coverage in the days following the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12.
With the exception of CNN, which did broadcast much of its prime-time programming live from Wisconsin, the major networks did not sent their anchors to Wisconsin and have given significantly less coverage to the shooting. Moreover, the Sikh temple shooting has not launched the national mourning that followed the shooting in Aurora. Of course the flags did fly at half-mast; but here the similarity ends.
To be sure, there are significant differences between the two events, beyond the number of victims. In Colorado, the suspect was still alive (adding the promise of a dramatic court appearance). In Wisconsin, the suspect was killed on the scene. The Colorado suspect had also rigged his apartment with explosives, shot up a place of public recreation, and provided the added flair of claiming to be "The Joker."
But the relative dearth of coverage has not gone unnoticed. Riddi Shah, an editor at The Huffington Post, wrote that "if we don't ask why a small religious community in the Midwest was targeted by a 40-year-old white man, if we don't make this discussion as loud and robust as the one that followed the attack on Gabby Giffords or on those young people in Aurora, we're in danger of undermining what America stands for."
Despite those concerns, the Wisconsin shooting seems destined to disappear into the realm of the nothing-to-be-done, nothing-to-be-discussed.
NBC News, busy with its exclusive rights to the Olympics, has led some newscasts with the story but kicked off this morning's "Today" show interviewing a pole vaulter. "We’ve devoted considerable resources to the Sikh temple shooting and are continuing to cover it," an NBC spokesperson stated.
ABC News, which has led every newscast with the story since Sunday afternoon, had no comments on the differences in coverage. CBS News also joined ABC in this cone of silence.
On cable, a spokesperson with MSNBC said the network's "editorial options are different" because of the Olympics, but noted that MSNBC had run several special reports during Sunday's coverage of the games. "Last night MSNBC prime time did cover the shooting in every hour of prime time – [Rachel] Maddow even led with the story," the spokesperson said. "So we’ve definitely done a good deal of coverage."
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 were confused, some never having heard of the killings in the first place.
The two incidents were obviously different in important ways: Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive. There were also the Olympics. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers. Both the quantity and content of the coverage has been clearly shaped by the identities of the shooter and his victims.
The relative neglect of Oak Creek was not a foregone conclusion. Although the shooting took place at a gurudwara, or Sikh temple, the narrative of the incident contained enough archetypal elements to be compelling to all Americans. The murders took place at a house of worship on a Sunday. There were heroic police officers, a shootout, and the attacker’s death by self-inflicted gunshot.
There is also Wade Page himself, with his hate tattoos, photographs in front of swastikas, and his Southern Poverty Law Center dossier. Page so fits our stereotypes of white supremacists that, if he did not exist, it would have been necessary for Quentin Tarantino to invent him. Page appears to have hated blacks, Jews, Latinos, and probably everything else associated with modern multicultural America. Here is a figure whose malevolence should frighten all Americans, not just Sikhs, in the same way that Holmes should terrify all of us, not just those who watch movies at midnight.
The most shocking was the reported statement of Rep. Michele Buchmann who is supposed to have said that luckily no Americans were killed in Oak Creek tragedy. She goes on and is reported to have said that had the attack been on a church then the American would have doed and that would have been a real tragedy. The million dollar question is whether it is only the pale, stale, anglo-saxon Christians only who can be called Americans and no other person of color or faith has a right to be ddemed an American. If the reported statement is correct; then it is incumbent on Obama adminstaration and Justice department to arrest her and prosecute her for promoting hate. I dare Obama do so!!!
Sadly, the media has ignored the universal elements of this story, distracted perhaps by the unfamiliar names and thick accents of the victims’ families. They present a narrative more reassuring to their viewers, one which rarely uses the word terrorism and which makes it clear that you have little to worry about if you’re not Sikh or Muslim. One need not be Pastor Niemöller to understand the shared loss, or to remember that a similar set of beliefs motivated Timothy McVeigh to kill a hundred and sixty-eight (mainly white) Americans in Oklahoma City.
A week later, post-Paul Ryan, Oak Creek has largely receded from public consciousness, along with the important policy issues it raises. There will be little debate about claims that the Department of Homeland Security has understaffed its analysis of domestic counter terrorism in response to political pressure. There will also be little attention to the accusation that the military has repeatedly been willing to accept white supremacists in its ranks. Representative Peter King will continue to hold hearings about the threat posed to America by Islamic extremism while refusing to investigate domestic right-wing groups, even though right-wing groups are more worrisome by any systematic measure. The number of ultra-right-wing militias and white power organizations has grown sharply since the election of President Obama in 2008, the movement is more decentralized and in many ways more disorganized than ever, experts and movement leaders say.
“There is plenty of frustration and defeatism in the white nationalist movement,” Don Black, director of Stormfront, the largest white nationalist online discussion forum in the world, said in an interview. Calling Mr. Obama “a symptom of the multiculturalism that has undermined our country,” Mr. Black added that “there is no preeminent organization today.”
Yet the shootings also shined a light on an obscure cultural scene that is helping keep the movement energized and providing it with a powerful tool for recruiting the young and disaffected: white power music, widely known as “hatecore.”
For more than a decade, Wade M. Page, a former soldier who the police say was the lone gunman — and who was himself killed by a police officer on Sunday — played guitar and bass with an array of heavy metal bands that trafficked in the lyrics of hate.
Even in Page’s below-the-radar world, those bands — Blue Eyed Devils, Intimidation One and his own, End Apathy — provided a touchstone and a gateway to a larger cause, as they have for many others in recent years.
“It is one of the pillars of the white supremacist subculture,” Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, said of white power music. “The message can motivate people to action, cause them to be proud of themselves and their cause. It can aggravate anger levels. It can rouse resentment.”
Two of Page’s bands make a cameo appearance in an F.B.I. informer’s report made public this year in a Florida drug investigation of people involved in white supremacist groups. The informer, who is not named, reported that the bands, Definite Hate and End Apathy, both played at a $20-per-person St. Patrick’s Day gathering of the Confederate Hammerskins group last year at a bar in rural Christmas, Fla.
Arno Michaelis, the former leader of a white power band called Centurion, whose CD “14 Words” has sold 20,000 copies worldwide, recalls being swept away when he heard racist music from the British skinhead group Skrewdriver in the 1990s. “Listening to that music was an essential part of how we rallied around the idea of racism,” said Michaelis, now 41. “It made me feel I was part of something greater, that I had purpose and that my race was something very special and was something I needed to defend.”
A Milwaukee resident, Michaelis distanced himself from the racist scene years ago, but was stunned to receive a call in 2005 from a German neo-Nazi who wanted him to reunite with Centurion for a European tour. The call prompted him to help form an organization, Life After Hate, that evangelizes against racism.
Though what may have set off the rampage remains a mystery to investigators, Page’s life as a white power musician playing violence-inciting songs was surprisingly open. He did interviews, posted photos on MySpace pages (one shows him playing guitar with a noose in the background), performed at festivals and even spoke candidly about his beliefs with an academic researching the movement.
After Timothy J. McVeigh, a former soldier, bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, the Pentagon declared a “zero-tolerance” policy for racist activity. But in 2006, a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq had allowed “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists” to enlist, and that neo-Nazi groups like the National Alliance were trying to recruit followers in the military in preparation for a race war.
In a statement released this week, a spokesman, George Wright, said the Army has been vigilant about racism in its ranks and did not tolerate “extremist behavior.”
Racist and neo-Nazi rock began as an offshoot of British punk in the late 1970s, appropriating both its shaved-head style and so-called oi sound featuring slashing guitar chords and barked vocals. By the 1990s, the music had become heavier, louder and darker, featuring violent diatribes against blacks, Jews and, later, gays and immigrants.
In 1999, the National Alliance, founded by William Pierce, author of the 1978 white supremacist novel “The Turner Diaries,” bought Resistance Records, the largest and most prominent label for white power music. The acquisition signaled the growing importance of the music to recruiting a new generation of white supremacists.
“The music became not only the No. 1 recruiting tool, but also the biggest revenue source for the movement,” said Devin Burghart, who has been monitoring racist hate groups for 20 years.
But Burghart and other experts on racist ideology said the movement has grown disjointed in recent years, despite the recruiting opportunities presented by an economic recession and the election of a black president.
One reason for the disarray might be the growth of a more mainstream movement, the Tea Party, whose successful forays into electoral politics have siphoned energy and support from violent fringe groups, said Chip Berlet, a Boston-based journalist who writes about right-wing groups.
But the decentralization of the white supremacy movement may also encourage isolated actors — as Page appears to have been — to strike out, said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “When there are not large organizations, you are more likely to see lone wolves like Wade Page,” he said. “We are seeing a movement full of white-hot rage and frustration because they feel they have lost the battle to make America a white country.”
In the end, the events of Oak Creek are tragic on at least two levels. There is the tragedy inherent in the brutal murders, the heroic sacrifices, the anguished waiting, and the grief of relatives whose lives will never be the same. But there is also the larger one of our inability to understand this attack as an assault upon the American dream and therefore a threat to us all. The cost of this second tragedy is one that the entire nation will bear.
It is time for Washington to reframe its debate about fighting terrorism to address all its forms. But before that can happen, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) must step down from his position as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The now-obvious truth is that King, known as Congress's iron-fisted champion of all things security in this frightening post-9/11 era is, in actuality, soft on terrorism -- at least where it counts. Since his tenure as chairman began in 2011, he has repeatedly refused to devote serious attention to the threats posed by white supremacist groups and right-wing extremism, opting instead to focus nearly all of his committee's time and resources to Muslim extremism, a statistically minimal threat by comparison.
Since 9/11, right-wing extremist groups have committed twice as many attacks in the United States as jihadist-affiliated groups, according to research conducted by the New America Foundation. Even more startling, 53 reported acts of violence, the majority comprised of assaults and murders, were carried out by white supremacists between January 2007 and November 2009 alone. In light of last Sunday's attack, it's clear that King's refusal to thoroughly examine the threat that these groups represent is, at best, an outright failure in his responsibilities as committee chairman. At worst, his inaction may have cost lives.
For years, King has branded himself on both the floor of Congress and in his incessant cable news appearances as the indefatigable foe of violent extremists. King's House staff bio touts the congressman as having led the fight to "protect the New York-Long Island region from nuclear dirty bomb attacks." However, overblown rhetoric like this represents precisely the kind of counterterrorism fervor that leads the chairman to minimize the very real risks posed by hate-filled white supremacists in favor of delusions that he might foil a 24-style nuclear plot in the country's largest metropolitan area.
And what kind of modern cinematic plot involving terrorists would be complete without Muslims, the demographic on which King has focused his misguided attempts to gauge loyalty? King's anti-Muslim witch hunt reached its apotheosis last year with his now-infamous hearings on the "Extent of Radicalization in the Muslim American Community," which featured a parade of dubiously qualified witnesses portraying the entire U.S. Muslim community as a hotbed of terrorist activity.
Prior to the hearings, the committee's ranking member, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), feared that hearings headed by a man who once claimed, without any factual backing, that "80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists," would be little more than a modern McCarthy-style trial of Muslim Americans, and asked that the chairman expand the proceedings to reflect all ideologically based threats.
King's response is so say the least disappointing. "There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen," and "to back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee -- to protect America from a terrorist attack."
King has not only failed to fulfill, in his own words, the main responsibility of the committee he chairs but, in the wake of his bullheaded charge to undermine political rivals, managed to overlook years of compelling research on the non-jihadist terror threat. In his letter to King, Thompson cited two reports, one from the University of Maryland Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, and the other from the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions, both of which warned of the more viable and statistically significant dangers posed by "lone wolf" terrorists
This was not the first time King chose to ignore vital data that could have anticipated Wade Michael Page's rampage either. A 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report asserted presciently that "white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy." The report was widely and quickly slammed by Republican congressmen, who felt the focus on right-wing terrorism was a way for the Obama administration to demonize the right as a whole.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights NGO known for its research on hate groups, was also remarkably prescient -- even without the vast domestic surveillance infrastructure available to U.S. counterterrorism agencies. In 2011, it warned that the number of hate groups in the United States had, for the first time since they began monitoring them in the 1980s, jumped beyond 1,000. Even more damning, Page himself had been on the SPLC's radar since 2000 as an outspoken voice in the neo-Nazi National Alliance and a prominent member of the white supremacist rock scene. Had law enforcement -- spurred by a legislative body responding to data and research and eager to prevent loss of American lives -- tracked the same warning signs, perhaps steps could have been taken to prevent last weekend's tragedy.
Yet to date, King has not devoted even one of his many hearings to the topic of white supremacist or right-wing extremist groups and the threats they pose, even as the DHS was issuing increasingly alarming reports. But just last month, King held the fifth of his hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community and this hearing was on The American Muslim response to hearings on Radicalization within their Communities. He called a hearing to discuss the reaction to his hearings. Mercifully, the hearing on the reaction to that hearing has not yet been added to the docket.
Worse than ignoring some terrorist threats while exaggerating others, King has a rather extensive and well-documented history of actually supporting terrorist groups -- ones composed of white Christians, naturally. In 1982, King appeared at a rally in support of the Irish Republican Army in Long Island, and pledged his support for "those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry." That same year, those "brave men and women" were using car bombs on banks, ships, and bridges. In fact, when asked in 1985 about civilians killed in IRA attacks, King said, "If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it."
As the familiar refrain goes, America's strength is in its diversity. And as last Sunday's attack made clear, the faces of American terrorists are equally diverse. Yet, the chairman of a body designed to protect us seems willfully blind to the acts of terrorists who look like him. This is a dangerous development that must be taken seriously.
In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, the entirety of America's national security infrastructure should, and likely will, spend more time and place greater scrutiny on the threat posed by non-Muslim domestic terrorists. Unfortunately, for the victims of this latest massacre, the action comes far too late.
There is no hierarchy of hate crime or racist terrorism, but Page’s massacre has a distinctive, sickening quality, set amid ignorance and reflecting a pattern of underpublicized bias of a sort that is often directed at the smallest of minority groups.
It’s not clear whether the shooter, like some Americans who have violently attacked Sikhs before, mistakenly believed that his victims were Muslims. In any event, the outrage would be the same if Page had shot up a mosque. The killer seemed to hate all brown people, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Yet the mass murder at Oak Creek took place in a context of persistent discrimination against Sikhs. During the months and years after September 11, 2001, Sikhs have been attacked and in at least one instance murdered by vigilantes who mistook them for members of the Taliban. Nor is this bias only a fringe problem of skinheads. At American airports, it is the policy of the Transportation Security Administration to always single out turban-wearing Sikh men for secondary screening and pat downs, no matter the traveller’s age or profile. (Turbans can in theory hide explosives, as suicide bombers in Afghanistan have demonstrated, but the procedures and explanations of the T.S.A. about its rules, as described by the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy and education group, suggest a blanket policy that would not likely be applied to a religious group with a higher profile and more numerous advocates.)
The Oak Creek murders reflect upon another neglected subject: the surprising pattern of terrorism in America since September 11th. In partnership with a team of researchers at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy collated and analyzed three hundred and two cases of domestic terrorism during the decade after the September 11th attacks. The numbers do not correspond with the public’s fear or understanding.
The entire decade-long domestic death toll from terrorism (that is, where a political or ideological motive was apparent) was thirty. By comparison, the rate of annual deaths from mass shootings by non-ideological deranged killers—such as the gunman who attacked moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, last month—runs more than thirty times higher (on average, about a hundred deaths each year). In all, there are about fifteen thousand murders in America each year.
Of the three hundred domestic-terrorism cases studied, about a quarter arose from anti-government extremists, white supremacists, or terrorists animated by bias against another religion. And all of the most frightening cases—involving chemical, biological, and radiological materials—arose from right-wing extremists or anarchists. None arose from Islamist militancy.
There was William Krar, for example, a militia activist who had stored “enough chemicals to produce a quantity of hydrogen cyanide gas that could kill thousands, along with more than one hundred weapons, nearly one hundred thousand rounds of ammunition and more than one hundred pounds of explosives.”
Why do these statistics seem so poorly publicized? Is the media a symptom of this problem or a cause? Why, to choose only the most recent indicator, would the Times fail to place on the front page any enterprise story about Oak Creek Wednesday morning, only the second day after the shooter’s racist background became known? (The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times did put massacre stories on A-1.) It is not hard to imagine the floodtide of sidebar stories and the legions of reporters summoned off the campaign or home from vacation by now if Page had been a converted Muslim and the sanctuary he attacked were in a Christian church.
A pattern of terrorism that is repetitive, rising in ambition, and neglected by the public can signal a coming strategic surprise—this was true of Al Qaeda during the late nineteen-nineties, and it looks to be true of domestic racist terrorism today.
Terrorism is political violence that acquires its greatest power when it unnerves a targeted population. At conferences in Washington these days, panelists routinely discuss the possibility of Al Qaeda’s “strategic defeat,” because of the recent decimation of its leadership and its diminished capacity to carry out sophisticated attacks against the United States.
Yet such a defeat would also require Americans and their elected representatives to understand and speak accurately in public about the true dimensions of terrorism—to describe the violence in its real proportions, and to recognize the Oak Creek shooting’s links to right-wing and racist terrorism that is every bit as potent at home these days as Al Qaeda and its followers are, if not more so. That clarity—that victory—seems a long way off.
Dr. Bikram Lamba, is a political and business strategist. He can be contacted at 905 848 4205. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org