Guns and Hate Crimes
Coming two weeks after James Holmes murdered 12 people and injured 51 others after opening fire in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, US, during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises”, the killing of six Sikhs and critical wounding three others in their Wisconsin temple is a grim reminder of the potential for gun-related murders in a land overrun with guns. There are approximately 270,000,000 guns in civilian hands in the US – 90 guns for every 100 persons.
Unlike the Colorado killings, the FBI has labelled this a ‘domestic terrorist’ crime which gives them access to a wider data base to determine Wade Michael Page’s motives for committing the heinous act. The bare facts of his background, however, indicate strongly that it was a hate crime. Army veteran Page, 40, was washed out of the military in 1998 after a six-year hitch. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a group that has studied hate crimes for decades, says on its website that Page was a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band known as End Apathy.
Heidi Beirich, director of the center’s intelligence project, noted that her group had been tracking Page since 2000, when he tried to purchase goods from the National Alliance, a well-known hate group. Beirich says there was “no question” Page was an ardent follower and believer in the white supremacist movement. This movement has grown exponentially since 9/11 as their xenophobia was spewed on immigrants and Muslims. She said her centre had evidence that he attended “hate events” around the country.
CBS reports that before his less-than-honourable discharge in October 1998, Page served at Fort Bliss, Texas, in the psychological operations unit in 1994, and was last stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., attached to the psychological operations there. AP reports that such specialists are responsible for the analysis, development and distribution of intelligence used for influencing foreign populations. This leads one to ask what kind of information is disseminated by the US army to its operatives engaged on psych-ops. Significantly, Page had a “9/11” tattoo on his upper right arm.
One of the oldest Asian communities in North America, Sikhs faced prejudice and discrimination at the start of the 20th century before finally establishing themselves in different walks of life. In the wake of 9/11, they found themselves targeted by racists who saw in their turbans a resemblance to Osama bin Laden and Muslim clerics. The sole victim of a hate killing after 9/11 was a Sikh petrol station owner in Mesa, Arizona. Ironically, the Sikh religion was founded in India by individuals opposing Muslim rule in that country. Their faith is a combination of beliefs drawn from Hinduism and Islam.
The lesson from the Sikh massacre is not, however, only about the threat to one particular religious community. Even the most hate-filled ideas, after all, cannot kill. The underlying problem is America’s bizarre relationship with guns, which gives extremists the ability to vent their hatreds in the deadliest manner. The semi-automatic handgun used in the attack is the same type used in other recent mass shootings such as the one in Colorado, and the attack on a congresswoman in Arizona.
Page used a Springfield 9mm semi-automatic handgun which had been purchased legally, at a Milwaukee-area gun store. Officials said on Monday that Page emptied several magazines in the shooting, and several more unused magazines were found.
It has long been apparent almost nothing can push the U.S. to clamp down on the criminally-easy access its laws give to guns. While President Obama said the shootings were occurring with “too much regularity” and should prompt soul-searching by all Americans, he stopped short of calling for new gun-control laws. He also said if it turns out it was ethnically motivated, the American people would “immediately recoil.”
In view of the US stance on human rights violations elsewhere, the US should more than ‘recoil’. It should work to eliminate the sources of hate for the ‘other’ as well as tighten gun control laws.