White Terrorism at Oak Creek: The Paranoid Style in American Violence

We still have only rumors about Wade Michael Page, the gunman who walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin near Milwaukee and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon (weapons that should be illegal) on men women and children beginning to gather for a day of worship, singing and feasting. He killed 6 Americans and critically wounded 3 others, including a Wisconsin policeman kneeling to help one of the Sikh victims. Others were more lightly wounded and went to ordinary hospitals rather than to the trauma unit.

Page is said to have served in the military, discharged for misconduct in 1998.

He is said to have had a 9/11 tattoo.

He was in a white supremacist punk band, “End Apathy.”

He likely thought he was targeting American Muslims. He operated in an atmosphere of virulent hate speech against American Muslims. A discourse of Islamophobia has plagued the United States in the past decade, pushed by unscrupulous bigots in public life and by entire media organizations such as Fox Cable News and other media properties of billionaire yellow press lord Rupert Murdoch. Among them is also Rush Limbaugh, who, incredibly, is still broadcast to US soldiers abroad.

Among the hatemongers are Frank Gaffney, and his acolyte Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), Rep. Peter King (R-NY) Daniel Pipes, James Woolsey, Robert Spencer, Steve Emerson, John Bolton, and sometimes Rudi Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and others, most associated with the Republican Party. The push for hate speech against American Muslims is funded by a small group of billionaires through their foundations. Some of the Muslim-haters are connected to the US arms industry and are hoping for profits from further wars in the Middle East. Others are Israel-firster fanatics. Others are looking for a bogey man to scare Americans with, so as to convince them to vote against their interests, as they used Communism during the Cold War to convince ordinary Americans to give up their constitutional rights.

It is legitimate to criticize Muslim organizations and parties, and to work against violent groups like al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is a tiny fringe religious-nationalist movement; far fewer Muslims have been involved in it than white southerners have been involved in the Ku Klux Klan. Nevertheless, American politicians at least implicitly attempted to tar all Muslims with its brush. Like anti-Semitism, racist anti-Muslim discourse has illegitimate properties. It shouldn’t be acceptable to attribute to Muslims a vast general conspiracy. It shouldn’t be acceptable to assert that they are all dishonest and lying about their real beliefs. It shouldn’t be acceptable to lie and allege that they believe in casually murdering non-Muslims. Their religious law, or sharia, shouldn’t be demonized more than the Talmud or Roman Catholic canon law. It shouldn’t be acceptable to accuse them all of waging jihad or holy war.

Since many in the hate-the-Muslims network are closely associated with the campaign of Mitt Romney, reporters should ask Romney again whether he is willing to repudiate this kind of hate speech.

As in Norway, where the Muslim-hating network (fostered also by hateful web sites like “Gates of Vienna,” “Elders of Ziyon,” and a host of others) deeply influenced mass murderer Anders Breivik, so in the United States the purveying of a negative image of Muslims predictably has resulted in violence. In Norway, Breivik targeted what he called liberals soft on the alleged Muslim menace. In the US, Wade targeted people he thought looked like Muslims, the Sikhs. (Actually I don’t know any American Muslims who wear turbans, as observant Sikh men do, but Hollywood stereotypes die hard). As always, hatemongering never only affects the objects of hatred. It distorts and wounds the people who promote it, and it usually spills over onto society in general. Neoconservative anti-Muslim bigots are usually indirectly also promoting anti-Semitism in the long term.

Did Michele Bachmann, Peter King, Daniel Pipes and the others cause the Wisconsin shootings? No. Did they create an intellectual and cultural atmosphere that naturalized such violence against the supposed Other? Well, Bachmann publicly alleged that a minor aide to Hillary Clinton of Pakistani heritage is at the center of a vast infiltration of the American government by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. You decide.

The image emerging of Page is emblematic of America in the past decade and a half. We are a violent country infested by dangerous semi-automatic weapons. Not only do we have far more murders, and especially murders by firearm, than other societies with advanced economies, but we launch far more wars than other such countries, and spend more than the next 20 advanced countries combined on our war industry. The mindset of frontier warriors taming the encircling savages, which goes back to early American history and, later, the legends of the Old West, informs both domestic attitudes and foreign policy. George W. Bush actually talked about the “romance” of fighting the Pushtuns of Afghanistan.

The US mass media suspected that the shooter actually intended to massacre Muslims, and some unfortunately referred to the temple attendees as “innocent,” as though a mosque congregation would not have been equally innocent.

Sikhism is a north Indian religion that began with ecstatic worship of a generally monotheistic sort some 500 years ago in India. It is an independent religion whose adherents say its scriptures are divinely revealed. As a historian I’m bound to say that it grows out of the cultural mix of Hinduism, Bhakti (ecstatic popular worship), and Sufi Islam (Muslim mysticism) of Mughal India in the early modern period). It is specially associated with the Punjab region of India (and what is now Pakistan). Sikhs say there are some half a million adherents in the United States, though sociologists assert that the figure is more like 100,000. Sikhs are just wonderful people, and a person’s heart is shredded at the idea of this horrible atrocity committed against them.

Sikhs have tall too often been targeted by perpetrators of hate crimes in the US.

The characteristics rumored of the shooter mirror the worst of America in the Bush era and after. The Muslim-hating political discourse, already discussed, was pioneered by Karl Rove in 2006.

As for a mistaken target, the United States government attacked Iraq in 2003 after an insidious propaganda campaign that falsely attributed the September 11, 2001 attacks to the government of Saddam Hussein (a conspiracy theory pushed with special ferocity by then Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, other Neoconservatives tied to the Israeli right wing, and by vice president Dick Cheney). There was never any credible evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 and I said so repeatedly and publicly in 2002 and early 2003. In fact, al-Qaeda was fostered in the 1980s by the United States and its regional allies as a way of pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

Paranoid “revenge” on Iraq to the extent that some US soldiers in the illegal invasion actually wore pictures of the Twin Towers, the building destroyed by the al-Qaeda hijackers, on their backpacks. I showed in my Engaging the Muslim World that in fact Saddam Hussein was afraid of al-Qaeda and had put out an all points bulletin for a suspected al-Qaeda operative who was rumored to be in Iraq in summer of 2002.

The crazed US invasion of Iraq set off social turmoil that has left tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and the country still a basket case nine years later. Thousands of Americans were plunged into a quixotic attempt to occupy an Arab Muslim country, forced in many cases into acts of brutality against Iraqi civilians that continue to haunt them. Large numbers of Americans who served in Iraq suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As the fruitless war ground on, the US army became desperate for recruits, and allegedly increasingly let in members of biker gangs and criminal elements, latter-day Pages. It is horrible to contemplate that our own government, which is terrified of a few Occupy Wall Street hippies, happily gave advanced weapons training and battlefield experience to criminals and white supremacists so as to put down the Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation.

The violence, hatred, paranoia and racism that courses in the subterranean depths of the American psyche has played out on the world stage in the past decade, but also in countless small acts of bigotry and maliciousness at home, as with Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the alleged radicalization of the American Muslim community (an IRA supporter himself, has he had any hearings on the radicalization of white people?) and the campaigns by Evangelical politicians to condemn Muslim canon law or sharia or to prevent Muslims from building mosques and worshiping freely.

That we are all victims of this campaign of hate is eloquently underlined by what happened at Oak Creek.

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Responses | Print |

36 Responses

  1. Juan:

    I believe your post was cut-off, at the point where you mention Rep…

    I believe you were trying to refer to Representative Peter King…


    • there may have been a code problem in the first ‘publish’ operation but it should all be there now.

  2. You might also wish to add the leader of hate speech in the United States today, Rush Limbaugh who is STILL broadcast on Armed Forces Radio. link to csmonitor.com

  3. Juan:

    I still do not see it. :(

    I am not trying to be a nag but rather just want to read the whoel post! :)


    • try going to tools or options in your web browser and emptying the cache, then close the browser altogether and open again.

      I see the whole posting on my browser.

  4. Thanks, Juan, most useful thoughts I’ve seen yet on this.

    Your parallel between the shooter hitting the wrong target and the US invasion of Iraq is striking.

    On reflection, given the hateful atmosphere that has been whipped up within the US for a full decade, the vast majority of Americans must be commended for remaining models of restraint.

    • Made-up enemies, straight out of “1984.” Two-minute hates. How easy, Orwell knew and warned, to manipulate all us sheeple into shooting ourselves in the ass and then shooting ourselves in the head.

      My favorite filmic bit on this subject is M. Emmet Walsh as the Mad Sniper in “The Jerk:” “Die, you random son of a bitch! DIE, GAS PUMPER!”

  5. Thank you, Juan. It’s good to see the situation of what is happening laid out so clearly. I’ve been pulling my hair out waiting for people to stop blaming all these mass shootings on mentally ill people, with nothing driving them to what they do. Just as the infamous crosshairs had nothing to do with the shooter in AZ.

    I can’t help but think of these same hate mongers going after a wardrobe malfunction at a sporting event and revealing a barely visable woman’s breast they screamed was going to corrupt children all over the world. But the mental images they create with their explicit hate/kill language make mentally ill people react? No Way!

    • Really, Wilma, didn’t you know children are only corrupted by sex, NEVER by violence? (*snark*)

  6. If any money from music sales was used by Wade Michael Page for his rent, car payments, gas or guns then the buyers of that music would be in violation of Providing material support to terrorists.

    18 USC § 2339A – Providing material support to terrorists

    Whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of ( Terrorism laws ).

    the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials;

    • It has been against the law to provide material support for organizations on the State Department’s sponsors of international terrorism list for many years.

      Could you kindly link to a story in which a customer of a business, unaware of how its proprietor spends his money, was so charged?

  7. Thank you, Professor Cole. As usual, you cut to the heart of the matter and say what needs to be said. In my mind, along with Glenn Greenwald, you have the most valuable blog on the internet.

    • Mr. Emmerich, I could not agree more with your observation about the blogs of Messrs. Cole and Greenwald. So let me add a third for your delectation: Paul Krugman’s. Mr. Krugman’s on vacation for a couple of weeks, but he’ll be back, and “Informed Comment”, Glenn Greenwald and Paul Krugman are the three tent poles of essential daily reading.

      Link: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com

      • I hasten to add Yves Smith at the incomparable Nakedcapitalism.com and Lawfare.com. Throw in Washington’s Blog and many important perspectives are elucidated.

        • Yeah, Yves Smith’s great, one of the four horsemen of finance-and-economics bloggers, the others being Paul Krugman, Matt Taibbi and Simon Johnson. (And yes, I know Yves Smith is a woman.)

  8. There is a Sikh gas station owner near me, and I have long feared for his safety. Like most Sikh men, he wears his turban proudly, and he must be a red flag to the yahoos. Fortunately, we are relatively civilized in NJ.

    Romney could show some courage and character by calling out Bachmann, et. al. But he is not possessed of either.

  9. Terrific column, Professor Cole; says what needs to be said. But why refer to Huma Abedin as a “minor aide to Hillary Clinton”? She is the Secretary of State’s chief of staff, and never leaves HRC’s side. More to the point, she is from a very prominent family and is well respected in Washington circles in her own right. (Never mind that she is married to one of the most blatantly pro-Israel politicians who ever served in Congress, which is saying something.) Bachmann could have targeted much more “minor” (not a very respectful word to begin with) people in government, but deliberately set her sights high to attract maximum attention to her McCarthyite inquisition. Otherwise, you are spot on once more. You could even say more about the gentle nature and well-known work ethic of Sikhs in the U.S. But the point here is about mass murder, and its intolerable frequency in this country, whoever the victims are, and about the hate speech that spurs it.

    • Ms. Abedin, for whom I have nothing but respect, is deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Clinton. My point was that if a foreign organization was trying to infiltrate, they would need a higher set of positions (maybe deputy secretaries of state) to accomplish something. I was belittling Bachmann’s conspiracy theory.

  10. SPLC tracked Page for a decade

    Gunman Identified As Former PsyOps specialist at Fort Bragg

    The Southern Poverty Law Center described Page as a “frustrated neo-Nazi” who in 2005 led a “racist white supremacist” rock band called “End Apathy”. The Montgomery, Alabama-based organization, which monitors hate groups, said it has been tracking Page for a decade.

    Suspected temple gunman lived in metro Denver for 15 years

    Army veteran Wade Michael Page, 40, lived in Centennial, Englewood, Littleton and Denver at various times from the 90s to 2007. He was discharged from the Army in 1998. Link to map Greater Denver Area. Awfully close to Columbine massacre of 1999 and recent Aurora attack.

  11. It may not be an issue of mistaken identify but one of tolerance. The US and the West in general has very little experience of it. It is in the West that the non-White are the menials. Sikhs have dared to be non- menial and different in color, belief and experience from the six-pack Joe.
    The high-priests of the US that if Isl and Muslims are left alone there may be an avalanche of conversions.
    Sikhs unlike Hindus are montheists who refused Brahmin domination and survived.

    • Lol at trying to enlist Sikhs in an anti-Hindu frame. Why do high-caste Hindus in The Punjab raise one son as a Sikh? Because the noble Sikhs are the protectors of Hindus-historically and today from Muslim aggression! Several of the blessed Sikh Gurus were executed by the Moghul foreign colonial regime for protecting Hindus. Please to get history correct.

    • Interesting twist whether it was intentional or not. Here is another map she released using crosshairs that are even closer in style; accompanied by Giffords prophetic warning about it before being shot.

      link to good.is

  12. And another thing. “Paranoid style” comes out of the Frankfurt School and out of Hofstadter.

    Flapdoodle. “The people that disagree with me aren’t just wrong, they’re crazy.” I think you’re a smart guy, and you know a lot about the Middle East. When it comes to domestic politics, including gun control, you’re not crazy, just gravely mistaken and blind to the dangers of statism, in particular.

    • Congratulations for spotting a reference. Now please tell us what you consider “gravely mistaken and blind to the dangers of statism” about the views expressed in this article.

    • I think you’re blind to the dangers of the plutocratic, white- and Christian-supremacist society of your nostalgia. Try and bring back the 19th century, old man. Millions of us will experience its inherent evils and will rise to fight it to the death. Better to be dead than be a nigger under the kind of hypocritical, wife-beating, child-molesting, Bible-thumping Patriarchs who ran this country under States’ Rights – north and south.

  13. This is a MOST excellent piece. It should be required reading for students everywhere in this country OR simply passed out on a street corner for everyone to read.

    The voices of reasoned intellect are always a joy to read. I love receiving Prof. Cole’s “Informed Comment” and find it more often than not a breath of fresh air in the polluted stream that is American politics of this ever- more-increasingly-dangerous era!

  14. Islamophobe Geert Wilders is funded by Daniel Pipes et al

    Populist Wilders will lose seats in coming election as Dutch voters move towards the opposition, left wing parties. Wilders party PVV has influence on foreign policy through Dutch minister Uri Rosenthal who has vetoed European policy towards Israel on settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Palestinian issue.

    Ynet News: Next Dutch government likely to be strongly anti-Israel, support dialogue with Hamas

    The present Dutch government has been one of the country’s friendliest to Israel in a long time.

    The possibility of a new government led by Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer including Labor, the small Green Party and the left-wing liberals of D66 cannot be excluded. It is likely to be strongly anti-Israel. SP says in its election program that The Netherlands will support a two-state solution.

    In the Labor Party program the entire section on instable regions was devoted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with a substantial anti-Israeli slant. The platform says more vaguely that The Netherlands will stop its pro-Israeli Dutch policy and align itself with the European Union one.

    Wow! Without ally Geert Wilders, the Dutch wil become anti-Israel, for a moment I felt a trembling … a choice between xenophobia and anti-semitism.

  15. Congratulations Dr. Cole on one of the best commentaries on this issue that I have read. This is my first post on your sight but I’ve read your blog at least weekly for several years now. This incident is a disgrace on our great country. Thank God (be he Jesus, Allah or other)for people like you. I will try to do my small part, but I hope that you, someone with vast experience and insight can weigh in on this debate on the national stage. We need it so very badly. Best, DR

  16. Is this what it was like in the later days of Reconstruction, with white supremacists railing against an (actual) occupation by Federal troops, but focusing all substantive action on the killing and exploitation of innocent non-whites to protect the property owners? Little by little, the slanted voting laws, the for-profit false imprisonments, and most importantly the legal gimmicks to take the vote away from more and more blacks? I thought that Jim Crow took the vote away from blacks quickly. It took decades, plenty of time for Americans to see what was happening and put a stop to it. They did not care.

    What good does it do to spend generations, as the abolitionists and then the Civil Rights movement did, to get even the possibility of justice, when the public will merely grow resentful of the tiniest sacrifice and the Patriarchs will claw their way back into power? What good is American justice that is taken away as soon as it inconveniences white property owners, again and again?

    When will the phrase “three strikes, you’re out” finally be applied to America?

  17. Don’t forget the role of movies, and TV shows, which have feasted on Muslim terrorists, for years.

    The racist anti muslim ranting heard daily on American airwaves, is astounding.

    the volume of it, the virulence of it, the lies told.

    absolutely amazing.

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