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Wisconsin Temple Attack: Authorities Chose to Look the Other Way

By Mark Potok on August 13, 2012 - 10:02 am, Posted in Domestic Terrorism, Racist Music, Racist Skinheads

Editor’s Note: This essay by Hatewatch Editor Mark Potok was originally posted Sunday night in The New York Times online opinion section as part of a “Room for Debate” feature that also included articles from four other contributors. The essays were meant to address the question, “Is the Threat From Hate Groups Overlooked?”

One of the most troubling aspects of the mass murder of Sikhs near Milwaukee last week is that the man who carried it out was well known to groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitor the radical right. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, had long been a fixture on the white supremacist music scene and was associated with seriously violent skinhead groups like the Hammerskin Nation.

But the almost certain reality is that there was little that law enforcement officials or others could have done to foresee or forestall the racist attack. Page does not seem to have done anything to suggest that he was planning a slaughter, and his views, fully protected by the First Amendment, were no different from those of thousands of other angry white nationalists.

Still, the attack occurred in the context of a sharp rise in the number of hate groups and antigovernment “patriot” organizations, mostly spurred by the changing racial demographics of our country, which are personified in our first black president. Domestic, non-Muslim terrorism has been on the rise since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Given that reality, is there something more that law enforcement should be doing?

Under the Bush administration, the government focused heavily on Muslim terrorists, to the point that it was justly criticized for ignoring our own homegrown brand of terror. But that has changed in the last few years, with the F.B.I. issuing regular warnings about dangerous aspects of the radical right and law enforcement agencies regularly infiltrating groups that threaten violence.

But one deeply troubling problem remains. In 2009, a prescient report from the Department of Homeland Security warning of rising threats from various sectors of the extreme right was leaked. It immediately provoked a firestorm of criticism from the political right, which saw it as an attack on all conservatives. The criticism was utterly unjustified, but that didn’t prevent the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, from caving in and pulling it back in an act of craven political cowardice.

As The New York Times has reported, the Homeland Security team responsible for the report, charged with monitoring non-Islamic domestic terrorism, was essentially gutted after that, with most members leaving after enduring unjustified public criticism from their boss. Homeland Security now claims that the unit is fully functional, but the lead author of the 2009 report, Daryl Johnson  — now a whistleblower — says that that’s not so.

Perhaps it’s finally time for Napolitano to take this problem seriously and rebuild and strengthen Homeland Security’s intelligence capabilities to face a clearly mounting threat. That might not have prevented the tragedy in Milwaukee, but it could very well save the lives of untold numbers of other Americans targeted by the racist right.

  • Hermandeep

    Back to Mark Potok’s points–

    The issue of what happened in Wisconsin is not deemed important to Obama — he didn’t show up for the funerals though he sent Michelle — in an election year. This is tremendously sad for all of us in the Indian American community. Do our deaths not matter as much?

    The actions of most mass shooters have political goals, no matter how warped they are, and should be consider terrorists. We live in states of real terror–for having the randomized face of the enemy by some ignorant Americans and by the lack of acknowledgement of the huge losses we have faced as a country, community, people and individuals by the fools in charge.

    Thank you Southern Poverty Law Center for your work.

  • aadila

    Oh, Lard.

    If that’s the case let’s just scrub the mission. Sorry Ruslan.

  • Reynardine

    Aadila, if you propose a statue of that size, I suspect only the engineers at Cape Canaveral could provide the transport system. And, other than the fact that he is male, we don’t even know what Ruslan looks like (I suspect only that he is old enough to be wise and young enough to be militant)

  • aadila

    Do you prefer treads over wheels, Ruslan? I am sure we can devise some form of modulation for your triumphal effigy that suits your preference. My only request is that it be energy efficient and not contribute to climate change (unless it is the climate of the political debate).

  • Reynardine

    JP, if you do not, by now, know the nexis between Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, et al, and Anders Breivik, nobody here can enlighten you: not the patient Coral Sea, not the legal-minded Erika, not the formidable Ruslan, and not people like me and, I suspect, Joseph, who long ago lost patience with those who embrace stupidity the better to engender meanness.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Oh, he only killed children at a kid’s camp of the social democratic party(not socialists)? Well that changes everything!

    10,000 foot statue, with wheels? Hmm….

  • JP

    The linked article on Anders Behring Breivik and reference to anti-Muslim “feelings” is completely out of place as Breivik didn’t kill any Muslims. He killed children at a socialist party camp because he himself said, they supported agendas that brought problems to his country. His plan was not to kill Muslims but to take one of Norway’s socialist party leaders hostage and even kill her! Where exactly in the “anti-Muslim” groups has any of them encouraged left wing politicians to be taken hostage?

  • Concerned Citizen

    “But the almost certain reality is that there was little that law enforcement officials or others could have done to foresee or forestall the racist attack.”

    I disagree with this statement because there may be a problem with the philosophy of racial divide amongst the smaller communities in Wisconsin and we need to ask ourselves where the police force is being recruited from?

    If a complete stranger can move here and see and identify the problem then I can’t imagine that those who have been here for years don’t know it exists. What I am more inclined to believe is that it is a way of life and has become a norm and many have become complacent with its existence.

    I also agree that while we have focused on the terrorists threats abroad we have indeed ignored our own terrorists being bred right here in the states and we need our homeland security to really look deep into those employed here that have the position and power to protect these active racist. Furthermore, there needs to be more intelligence sharing amongst the communities that are targeted by these groups. They are not always as open with their deeds. They can be very complex in their criminal activities employed covert methods and operations. So you see why having our military training and enlisting the methods of other American intelligence training could serve them well in growing their organizations and at the same time using stealth methods to employ their criminal acts of hate. We need outside over site and education to guide and apply checks and balances to these local police forces as well.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    I appreciate your praise, but let’s not forget what kind of people we’re dealing with here. They’re not exactly scholars. All they have are the same old conservative memes and canned arguments from Stormfront, many of which are decades old.

  • Michael Burt

    “Still, the attack occurred in the context of a sharp rise in the number of hate groups and antigovernment “patriot” organizations, mostly spurred by the changing racial demographics of our country, which are personified in our first black president.”

    There, someone finally said. The dinosaurs are going extinct, and they’re not happy about it.

  • aadila

    Were I as rich as Ruslan is grand, I would erect a 10,000 foot statue in his honor, stern, uncompromising, pointing directly at the idiocy of the right wing. I would give it wheels so it could be taken with tractors from town to town like a juggernaut, frightening everybody.

  • Kiwiwriter

    Of course, NWOSlave’s sole purpose was to derail the discussion…this was originally about the government’s failure to address a neo-Nazi nutter who figured he could address his despair at neo-Nazism’s failure to do anything in general (and his life’s despair in particular) by going out as a “glorious martyr” to the “cause.”

    I suspect that Mr. Wade had the idea that by massacring some of his declared enemies and then dying himself, he could inspire hundreds, nay, thousands, of like-minded people to rise from their computers and internet flame wars to charge forward to lead the revolution against the Zionist Occupational Government, overthrow the regime, bring racial utopia, massacre all the subhumans, and raise giant statues of Mr. Wade throughout the rebuilt United States, honoring him for his vision and sacrifice.

    Instead, Mr. Wade ends the way all these would-be glorious martyrs end up…dead and despised. The like-minded junior Fascists hide behind their computer screens and mutter grimly that the whole incident was a government plot. Nobody rising from their seats to take to the streets in the great revolution. No overthrow of the government. No statues of Mr. Wade. He will be forgotten by everyone…

    …Everyone but the families of the innocent human beings he gunned down. They, sadly, will remember him forever.

  • Reynardine

    I agree that the latter would be terrifying; the former is merely, on occasion, intimidating.

    I have known one mind the marrow of his, and further seasoned by having both survived and understood the major upheavals of the Twentieth Century. She passed on two decades ago; as it is, Ruslan is both impressive and unique.

  • aadila

    Rey, Ruslan is downright terrifying. The only thing more terrifying than a Ruslan on your side is a Ruslan who is NOT on your side.

  • Reynardine

    Ruslan definitely is impressive.

  • Erika

    Aadila, I warned you that those Chick Tracts are dangerous :P

    Next you know you will be claiming that Mike Huckabee’s children’s history cartoons are better than Bugs Bunny. Don’t forget that disobedient children should be stoned to death (incidentailly, if that was the rule, I wouldn’t have made it past preschool because I have always been a complete brat) and that listening to rock and roll will cause you to go straight to Hell.

    All sarcasm aside in your list of nutcase states you forgot the two I’ve lived in: Georgia and Virginia. Souih Carolina is ultra crazy as well. And Louisiana. And Texas.

    But really, if I remeber correctly the big hangup here was Texas and Virginia: the U.S. objected to provisions banning the execution of children or sentence children to long prison sentences. I think that Louisiana even wanted to be able to execute children for raping younger children. Indiana set a minimum age for the death penalty at 12.

    I believe there were also objections from certain states that the treaty might force them to give up their God given right to paddle misbehaving kindergarteners

    What a shining beacon for human rights and liberty the U.S. is (oopsie, more sarcasm)

  • aadila


    No credit due to me. My mind is only great enough to quake in terror of Ruslan’s mind.

    But thanks all the same…

  • aadila

    “I’m not sure if the U.S. has signed the U.N. Convention for the Rights of Children however.”

    Erika, there is always the danger that by protecting children from perverts the United States will sign on to a one-way ticket to global socialism. Thank goodness we have Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee and a few other states there to keep us safe from any threat to American exceptionalism. Besides our responsibility as God fearing Americans is care about children in the womb. Whatever happens afterwards is the kid’s problem so don’t tread on me or my guns!

    See? It’s the Chick Tracts. They changed me!

  • CoralSea

    Erika — Thanks for letting me know that the U.S. does prosecute child sex “frolics and detours” (pardon me — have to vomit. Okay, I’m back) in other countries. I didn’t know that they did that. Also, I was aware of the various U.N. proclamations against sex trafficking of children.

    I believe that they have also taken a stand against slavery, which is still a big thing throughout the world — including slavery and near-slavery in the U.S. (I know that SPLC recently did a report on the abuse of hospitality workers brought in from abroad and basically forced to do minimum wage work rather than undergo the training they thought they had signed on for — certainly a form of quasi-slavery or wage-theft.) Crain’s Chicago Business, which, as its name suggests, is a regional business publication, also ran a frontpage article a few months ago about the staggeringly high number of workers — typically low-wage, sometimes immigrant for often plain old Uhmerkins, as Reynardine would say — are shorted on pay or completely stiffed by employers who had no financial reason to do so, but did it because they could.

    I found it interesting that aadila and Ruslan also independently hit upon the stupidity of resting one’s arguments regarding misdeeds on the “but they did it too!” defense. I guess great minds think alike.

    Reynardine — Congrats on the book. I’ll have to look for it.