The shooting of a Sikh temple led to the hate that plagues America today

Ten years ago, a white supremacist set fire to a Wisconsin Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb. Friday marks ten years since the gunman killed six people and injured several others, one of whom succumbed to his injuries in 2020.

The Big Picture: Experts and victims’ family members say the white supremacist ideologies that motivated the 2012 attack are now prevalent.

Zoom: On August 5, 2012, he was woken up by 18-year-old Harpreet Singh Saini’s mother to escort him to a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He told Axios that he was very tired, so Paramjit Kaur Saini eventually left for the Gurdwara alone.

  • Less than half an hour later, his aunt called – the shooter entered the house of worship.
  • Pardeep Singh Kalika, who founded his father and led a gurdwara, knew right away that his parents were in the crossfire. He told Axios that he later learned that his father, Satwant Singh Kalika, had fought the gunman with a butter knife and had sustained five shots at point blank range.

Saini’s mother and Kalika’s father Both died that day. “There were feelings of shock that something like this could happen in a place of worship,” Kalika said. “That day led to weeks and months after just trying to pick up the pieces.”

playing condition: Members of the Sikh community have become targets in the post-9/11 scene, often confused with Muslims and vilified as terrorists.

  • Sikh Americans across the country have been urging the federal government to start tracking anti-Sikh hate crimes, Sim J. Singh, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Sikh Alliance.
  • A few weeks after the shooting, Saini testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking lawmakers to “give my mother the dignity of being a statistic.” In 2015, the FBI officially began documenting anti-Sikh hatred.
  • The agency’s 2020 report on hate crimes and bias showed that anti-Sikh incidents were at their highest since the FBI began tracking them – Sikhs were the third most targeted religious community in the United States.
Kamaljit Singh Saini wishes his brother Harpreet Singh Saini well before he testifies at a congressional hearing on hate crimes and the threat of domestic extremism on September 19, 2012. Photo: Chris Madalone/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Since the shooting at Oak Creek, White supremacist ideologies have expanded their reach across America, resulting in the Great Replacement Theory, new extremist groups and many mass shootings motivated by hate, according to Michael Lieberman, senior policy advisor at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

  • “In the past year, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House and the Department of Justice have recognized that the main threats now are white supremacists and anti-government militia groups,” Lieberman told Axios.
  • An April poll by SPLC and Tulchin Research found that more than a third of Americans feel the country’s changing demographics pose a threat to white Americans, their culture, and values.

what are they saying: The US needs a “society as a whole” response, Kalika said, citing a lack of robust mental health care infrastructure, inadequate education for American Sikh communities, and a deeply rooted toxic masculinity. Many Sikhs have also called on the federal government to mandate hate crime reporting, which remains voluntary.

  • The Sikh alliance has been pressing Congress to move forward with three pieces of legislation, including the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which aims to create better federal standards for investigating white nationalist and racial groups. (The bill passed the House of Representatives but was not approved by the Senate.)

The Big Picture: Today, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is fortified with surveillance cameras. No one can enter unless the stationed security guard or priest allows them to enter.

  • The community has planned several events to mark the 10th anniversary, including a vigil, workshops on threat assessment, and interfaith gatherings.
  • The Sikh Alliance will also hold its annual national day in Siva, which began in 2013 to honor the lives lost. Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike are invited to participate in community service events across the country.

“There was a lot of anger in the immediate aftermath …but he’s running out of fuel very quickly, said Kalika.

  • What nurtures them now is compassion, he said, pointing to the principles of their faith – love and inclusion, mission and purpose.
  • Kalika said that his father lived up to those values. “At any time he could leave his place of worship. The exit door was 10 feet away. But he had something worth fighting for.”
  • “For many Sikhs…there is no sacrifice or what we call martyrdom – a martyr – of death in the place you helped build. The people you helped build. No government or white supremacist.”

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