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A year ago today, a neo-Nazi walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and opened fire with a 9 mm pistol. The Sunday morning attack left six people dead and four others injured. The gunman, a white-power musician, eventually turned the gun on himself after a police officer shot him in the stomach.
Forty-year-old Wade Michael Page didn’t live to explain why he chose to commit such a horrific act of violence against Sikhs, but it’s likely he believed he was killing Muslims – people he detested due to the 9/11 terror attacks.
Since 9/11, Sikhs frequently have been the targets of anti-Muslim violence in the United States. It was only days after the attacks that Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed while tending to the grass in front of his gas station. He was killed by a man who wanted to murder a “towel head.” In the aftermath of the terror attacks, he went shopping for an American flag to show his support for the United States. But to the gunman, Sodhi was a radical Islamist deserving of death.
Sodhi’s life is commemorated at the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala. His photo is displayed with other martyrs of the modern-day struggle for civil and human rights. His life is also honored by the work of the SPLC. Shortly after the shooting in Wisconsin last year, the SPLC identified the shooter as a white supremacist known to our investigators for many years. The SPLC also provided congressional testimony in the aftermath of the Wisconsin attack, stressing the need to place a high priority on domestic extremism. This past week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would start tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs and four other groups.
Teaching Tolerance has offered resources to help teachers educate their students about Sikhs and has continued to raise awareness about deadly anti-Muslim violence. We also honored the lives of the shooting victims with a vigil at the Civil Rights Memorial, joining thousands of others participating in a nationwide vigil for the victims last year.