The Aug. 6 massacre of six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. is revealing in its reactions from across the spectrum, but let's start with Mitt Romney. The media have noted his embarrassing blooper of confusing the words "Sikh" and "sheikh," but failed to note that the very quote in which he made the gaffe was not merely ignorant but insidiously sinister. Here it is: "We had a moment of silence in honor of the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple. I noted that it was a tragedy for many, many reasons. Among them are the fact that people, the sheik people, are among the most peaceable and loving individuals you can imagine, as is their faith." (AP, Aug. 7) Right, as opposed to those dirty you-know-whos. Numerous commentators (mostly on the left, natch) have pointed out that the emphasis on the fact that Sikhs aren't Muslims sometimes comes close to implying that violent attacks on Muslims would be OK. Romney's subtext is clearly that the Sikhs are good, domesticated wogs that white America can tolerate, while those bad Muslims have got it coming, because their faith is not "peaceable and loving."
In related news (although New Jewish Resistance is probably the first to draw the connection) activist group Jewish Voice for Peace reports that staff at Romney's Boston headquarters have refused to accept their petition with over 17,000 signatures demanding that Mitt apologize for his ugly statement in Jerusalem blaming the Palestinians for their own oppression. (Haaretz, Aug. 8) These are coded messages—the way to play to the racist vote while maintaining a veil (however diaphanous) of plausible deniability.
Raw Story is pointing out that Fox News "senior judicial analyst" Andrew Napolitano is insisting that the Oak Creek attack was "not domestic terrorism," and berating federal authorities for having broached the possibility that it is. He contrasts the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, which was apparently never formally declared an act of terrorism, and which he insists actually was (perpetrated, as it was, by an angry Muslim). Well, we aren't going to say the Fort Hood incident wasn't terrorism, but we will say that of the two, Oak Creek has a farbetter claim. However irrational, the Fort Hood attack was on a military target. The Oak Creek attack was on civilians holding a religious service in their own temple. If we are going to play the game of which has a better claim to the T-word, Oak Creek wins, hands down.
By now we all know the basic facts. Gunman Wade Michael Page had already come to the attention of federal investigators because of his associations with radical-right extremists. An Army veteran with a 9-11 tattoo, he had played in the "hate rock" bands End Apathy and Definite Hate, and hung with a skinhead gang called the Hammerskins. His name was known to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which published a picture of Page wearing suspenders with a Confederate-flag pattern, surrounded by Nazi regalia. (LAT, NYP, New Yorker, Aug. 6)
One state away from Wisconsin in Missouri, a mosque burned to the ground on the same day as the Oak Creek attack—the second fire to hit the Islamic Society of Joplin in little more than a month, with the FBI and ATF suspecting arson. (AP, Aug. 6) Even if the Joplin attack wasn't arson (which seems far-fetched), there is no shortage of evidence of a growing violent xenophobic and Islamophobic reaction in the US—that started with 9-11, gained ground in the economic crash and more ground still with Obama's election.
But it isn't just Romney and Fox News that refuse to get it. Lugubrious conspiranoids likeInfoWars, Axis of Logic (sic) and Digital Journal are seizing upon early reports from the scene that there were multiple shooters at Oak Creek. None of these sources appear to have been actual witnesses, but all were Sikhs associated with the temple. Note that none of them have been speaking out to challenge the universal portrayal of a single shooter. Have they all been intimidated into silence by mysterious conspirators? Unlikely, but the conspiranoids don't even bother to ask the question. They merely take it as a fait accompli that the early reports were correct because they want to—cynically exploiting the traumatized survivors for propaganda purposes. (It is similar to how conspiranoid websites seize on early quotes from firefighters to back up their theories of pre-planted explosives in the World Trade Center—despite the fact that no New York firefighters have spoken out in support of these theories.)
Conspiranoid site IntelHub seizes on an LA Times report indicating that Page had received psy-ops training in the military, as if this were a point of great significance. IntelHub ignores the more salient fact in the LAT report: that Page was discharged from the Army after demotion in rank. A military official would not say what his transgression was, but he was disqualified from receiving an honorable discharge, or from re-enlisting. And that was way back in 1998. So what are the odds that he was a deep-cover operative in some secret military plot to grease a totalitarian take-over of America? Um, zero. Yet of course the conspiranoids (Above Top Secret, InfoWars, Illuminati Conspiracy Blog) are still saying the same thing about the Aurora, Colo., mass shooting of two weeks earlier. Accused shooter James Eagan Holmes was never in the military, so instead the conspiranoids seize on the fact that he was involved in neurological research at the University of Colorado. They will always find a straw to grasp.
A more likely possibility is that Page was first recruited into the neo-Nazi movement while in the Army—given the alarming infiltration of the military by far-right networks in recent years.
Details are going to emerge in the coming days, but I already know what they'll amount to. A white man, in his 40's, nursing resentment over 9/11 for more than a decade, planned for a long time to kill some "enemies." The guns will turn out to be legally acquired, or if not, so accessible as to make the law meaningless. The man will turn out to be mad. In the debate, people will argue that the cause is racism…no, it's gun control…no, it's mental health. It is impossible for us to navigate the deadly tangle of all three.
It is a little annoying to hear a journalist basically arguing that reality is so predictable that journalism is superfluous, but of course all her predictions have now been vindicated—with one important exception. Is anyone saying that Page is insane? Of the three factors Sen brings up—racism, the easy availability of guns, and insanity—the first looms the largest, by far. Gun control is a tricky question, but insanity appears not to be an issue here at all. More from Sen:
Murderous insanity can infect any community, and maybe that leads people to call these senseless acts of random violence. But of course they are neither senseless nor random, and the vast majority of such incidents here involve white men. Racism holds a terrible logic, for a concept with no grounding whatsoever in science or morality, yet too many white people don't see any patterns.
What a shame that Sen undercuts her own argument by calling the massacre an act of "insanity," which only plays into the conventional (and wrong) "wisdom" of lone unbalanced perpetrators in all such cases—like John Hinckley Jr. or David Berkowitz. When a Sikh temple is shot up by a white nationalist with a 9-11 tattoo, the problem is not "insanity." Sen is very sharp in calling out the cultural background that fosters institutionalized hatred. She analyzes CNN's coverage of the massacre:
The "expert" they turned to most often was the sincere but inadequate Eric Marrapodi of CNN's Belief Blog. He kept saying that Sikhs were not Muslims, but were often mistaken for Muslims and "unfairly targeted." The first time he said it, I thought, wow, that's unfortunate phrasing and he'll stop using it after he realizes or someone points out the implication that Muslims can be "fairly" targeted. But no one ever got a clue. Islamaphobia was never mentioned, much less condemned for the ignorance and violence that it spreads.
Buzzfeed also noted Marrapodi's faux pas, and linked to the video footage. Sen's most important line:
I implore of my white friends, when your nutty uncle or classmate goes off about some set of foreigners, you must make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up. We cannot do this for you.
Amen to that. Fighting fascism—and preventing future atrocities such as Oak Creek by challenging the cultural climate that breeds them—begins at home.
As for Sen's call for "limiting gun access"—well, again, that's a tricky one. True that in Oak Creek and Aurora, as in Tucson and Virginia Tech and Columbine (not to mention the Trayvon Martin and Holocaust Museum cases), the guns appear to have been acquired legally. True that the Second-Amendment fundamentalist prescriptions of the NRA (whose propaganda fuels the culture of racism) take no responsibility for stockpiling by radical-right militias, orstateside gun dealers arming the murderous Mexican cartels. But we will also point out that the police are armed to the teeth, and the US is currently witnessing a wave of police terror from New York to Anaheim. Faced with such circumstances 40 years ago, the response of the Black Panthers was not to call for gun control.