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Attack on Sikhs “happened to all of us,” says panel
September 30th, 2012
In the days after the Aug. 5 attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, which killed six and wounded three, U.S. Attorney James Santelle appeared on local television news in regard to the case.
So he was not surprised when a woman he encountered in public said she recognized him. What she said, however, did surprise him: “I just wish you would talk more about things that are about America.”
This incident “underscores the work we have yet to do,” Santelle told an audience of about 100 people at the Chai Point Senior Living Apartment Complex on Sept. 11.
In fact, attitudes like this woman’s — and of the Aug. 5 gunman, white supremacist Wade Michael Page — “are not what America is about,” he said. “What happened on Aug. 5 happened to all of us.”
And so his work is not just about prosecuting people like Page, whose hatred drives them to commit crimes — which Santelle said he would have done had not Page killed himself on the site.
“I am committed to try to address those people out there who are not criminals, but who say things that reflect mind sets that are simply not America,” Santelle said.
Santelle was the first speaker in a panel discussing “Hate Crimes, Extremists, and Implications for Minority Communities.” The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Chai Point.
After Santelle spoke, Steve Conley, assistant special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Milwaukee Division, described Wisconsin’s hate groups and some of their activities.
He said Wisconsin is home to seven such groups: The American Third Position white supremacist political party; four neo-Nazi groups named Creativity Movement, Aryan Nations, National Socialists, and New Order; a Christian Identity group called Crusaders for Yahweh; and a Supreme White Alliance racist skinhead group.
Wisconsin also has one black separatist group that is linked to the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam, Conley said.
“Relatively speaking, Wisconsin does not have a lot” of hate groups, Conley said. The Chicago area alone has “almost triple” Wisconsin’s number of such groups, he said.
Conley also said that the number of reported hate crimes in Wisconsin has been increasing. There were 63 reported incidents in 2009, of which 59 percent involved race, 16 percent religion, and 19 percent sexual orientation.
In 2010, 93 incidents were reported, a 47.6 percent increase, of which 45 percent concerned race, 14 percent religion, and 30 percent sexual orientation, Conley said. Figures for 2011 are not yet available, he said.
However, Conley said that the FBI cannot open files or start investigating such groups purely on the basis of their speech, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Only when such groups or individuals threaten or use violence can the FBI come in, he said.
But the Anti-Defamation League can monitor the speech of such groups and individuals, said the fourth speaker on the program, Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the ADL’s Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest area.
In fact, Nasatir said, the ADL Chicago office had a file on Page that provided much of the information and many of the photographs that news media used after the Aug. 5 attack.
Unfortunately, Nasatir said, Page had “never once” talked about violence or taking any action before Aug. 5. If he had, the ADL would have informed the FBI and other Wisconsin law enforcement agencies in the hope of preventing such an attack, Nasatir said.
Nasatir added that of the Wisconsin groups, the National Socialists are “the most active in the region” and are planning “an activity in Madison” this month.
Nasatir also described the ADL’s other work, which included creating the model hate crimes law passed in Wisconsin and 44 other states; training law enforcement officials about hate groups and various institutions about safety and security; and educational projects about pluralism and acceptance.
“Changing attitudes has to be the focus of all of us,” Nasatir said. “We know that people were not born to be haters.”
The third speaker was Amardeep Kaleka, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Page murdered his father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the Sikh Temple.
Kaleka presented a short film he had made after the attack, showing members of the temple in an effort to “give them their voices back.”
He said that Page attacked the temple “not because we wore turbans and beards,” but “because we were different.” He then described how he spoke to about 700 people at the end of Milwaukee’s Indian Summer Festival, “and I asked them, ‘How many of you have ever felt different?’”
All of them indicated that they did. “And they were from every culture,” he said. “If we all feel different, we must all be on the same page. We’re pretty unified in that way, if we acknowledge that being different is a good thing.”
Hosting and moderating the event was Aaron Bernstein, chair of the JCRC’s task forces on anti-Semitism and constitutional law.