Senate Holds Hearings On Hate Crimes In Wake of Sikh Temple Massacre

National News
As the country prepares for elections, it is scarred by attacks on places of worship: during Ramadan, six members of the Sikh community were gunned down in their sanctuary in Oak Creek, WI.

The week following the Oak Creek rampage, we saw an unidentified perpetrator throwing an makeshift explosive at an Islamic school in Lombard, Illinois, during prayer services. Shots were fired at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove, Illinois, by a neighbor while 500 worshippers were praying during Taraweeh. Then the masjid in Joplin, Missouri was burnt to the ground. It hasn’t ended, as recent news of arson, from the Islamic Center of Toledo, shook the Muslim communities around the country; once again one of our own was attacked.

There has been a 50 percent rise in the FBI’s count of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2010.

According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics, in 2010 there were 6,624 hate crimes, out of which 47.3 percent were motivated by a racial bias and 20.0 percent were motivated by a religious bias.  A 2005 study by the Bureau of found that the actual number of hate crimes may be more than 20 times higher than the number reported to the FBI.

President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act "prohibits any person from willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person," 

In late September 2012, a hearing on Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism was convened by Senator Durbin. The hearing revolved around what is being done to chronicle, investigate and prosecute hate crimes, as well as failures by law enforcement and government agencies to prevent attacks like the one in Oak Creek.

Addressing growing concerns that hate groups are on the rise and that attacks could happen anywhere, Durbin highlighted that this is the first hearing in recent years focused on the threat of violent domestic extremists.“We cannot ignore the threat of homegrown non-Islamic terrorist,” he said.

"9/11 has set the threshold for what terrorism is in the minds of many Americans, and if domestic terrorism lacks the magnitude, it must not be terrorism," said Daryl Johnson, a former counterterrorism expert at the Department of Homeland Security and one of the panelists. Johnson says he left DHS in 2010 out of frustration.  His analysis accentuates Durbin’s sentiment that the domestic terror threat is larger than we know.

One of the most thought-provoking findings from the hearing was Johnson’s findings that the quantity and lethalness of the arsenal found in the possession of the Hutaree Christian militia, a group planning attacks on law enforcement, was greater than the cumulative arms from the 230+ Muslims charged in the U.S. since 9/11. Many of those cases were considered entrapment and arms for them had been provided by the FBI. “The media ignores them,”said Johnson.

Peter Bergen, who is the director at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank states in his Op-ed for CNN, “After 9/11, there was great concern that al Qaeda or an allied group would launch a terrorist attack involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons. But in the past decade, there is no evidence that jihadist extremists in the United States have acquired or attempted to acquire material to construct CBRN weapons. By contrast, 11 right-wing and left-wing extremists have managed to acquire CBRN material that they planned to use against the public, government employees or both.”

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a study by the New America Foundation and Syracuse University, 18 people have been murdered in 2012 by right-wing terrorists, while 17 have been killed in 4 attacks by violent Muslim extremists in the past 10 years.  As one public FBI report warned, "right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence."

In her written testimony, Dr Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Wade Michael Page was known to the SPLC since 2000 as a racist, neo-Nazi skinhead.  Durbin questioned why the Oak Creek shooter had not been under surveillance. He asked was there a breakdown in intelligence sharing and gathering, was he tracked, were any warnings issued to the Sikh community? “We knew of him but there was not a case open on him, he was not a predicated subject,” said Clancy.  His hate activities were all protected under the law. All the legal actions of an identified extremist group/individuals leading up to an act of violence are constitutionally protected and not reported on by DHS.

Another issue of priority that Senator Durbin brought up was clarification on the amount of DHS analysts working on non-Islamist related domestic terrorism. According to Daryl Johnson, they had been downsized to one analyst.  Citing security and classification, a very whitewashed answer was provided by the DOJ, that “it’s sensitive information.”

Durbin explained that “this year Jewish organizations received almost ten million dollars in funding” from the DHS Non-Profit Security Grant to secure the community’s infrastructure. Senator Durbin commended the DHS on their anti-semitism model and suggested that the model be used for preventing hate crimes against other faiths.

Senator  Durbin stated that he hoped that this hearing will help redouble the efforts to combat the threat of domestic terrorism and to take whatever steps are necessary to protect vulnerable communities.

A sad reflection on the partisanship in our country was the absence of all the Republican committee members. This is clearly not an issue to be partisan about. But we have to remember that this is the same party, several of whose members in the House of Representatives have questioned the loyalty of American Muslims serving in the current Administration.

“Some would argue that we should not discuss our shortcomings while violent anti-American protests are raging in the Muslim world. They claim that America shows weakness when we acknowledge our mistakes. I disagree. America is strongest when we lead by example. We are a country that can look ourselves squarely in the mirror and admit there is work still to be done to secure the promise of equal justice for all.” Senator Durbin

Jerome P. Bjelopera is a specialist in Organized Crime and Terrorism; he released a report of Domestic Terrorism for the use by Congressmen. He finds that the emphasis of counterterrorism policy in the United States since Al Qaeda’s attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11) has been on foreign terrorism.

However, in the last decade, domestic terrorists—people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based extremist ideologies and movements—have killed American citizens and damaged property across the country. Not all of these criminals have been prosecuted under terrorism statutes, include individuals who commit crimes in the name of ideologies supporting animal rights,environmental rights, anarchism, white supremacy, anti-government ideals, black separatism, and anti-abortion beliefs. These extremists use non traditional tactics.

Another FBI study reported that between January 1, 2007, and October 31, 2009, white supremacists were involved in 53 acts of violence, 40 of which were assaults directed primarily at African-Americans, seven of which were murders and the rest of which were threats, arson and intimidation. Most of these were treated as racially motivated crimes rather than political acts of violence, i.e. terrorism.

Even though white supremacist extremism are identified as U.S. based ideologies, their origins lay in the United Kingdom and  Germany origins . Anarchist extremists, also have historic European roots. The racist skinhead movement traces its origins abroad to the UK as well.  “It is unclear exactly what the FBI means when it emphasizes U.S.-based ideologies in its framing of domestic terrorism. Thus, individuals considered domestic terrorists by federal law enforcement may not necessarily be federally charged as terrorists.” says Bjelopera.

In his report Bjelopera asks three pertinent questions. Why federal government does not generate an official and public list of domestic terrorist organizations or individuals. The federal government appears to use the terms “terrorist” and “extremist” interchangeably when referring to domestic terrorism. It is unclear why this is the case. Finally, and most importantly, which specific groups are and should be considered domestic terrorist organizations?  According to the report, the U.S. government does not provide a public answer to these questions.

“Homeland security is hometown security,” said Roy L. Austin, Jr. Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, who was also a panelist at the hearing.

The most poignant and moving testimony was by the son of one of the victims. ‘Give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” said Harpreet Singh Saini, as he appealed that the Sikh religion should be included in the form that accounts for hate crimes.  This young brave man pushed for solidarity. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, I don’t want to blame the Muslims, I want to combat hate,” he said.

“We need to get out of the ‘Sikhs aren't Muslims’ mindset and focus on something that affects all Americans: hate crimes,” Raman Singh from the Sikh Coalition.

The hearing was followed by Muslim-Sikh solidarity events organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. A Pledge of Solidarity on behalf of 14+ Muslim organizations was presented to Sikh leaders.
Sikhism is not recognized as a religion on most government forms. “Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” Saini said, “my mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

The SPLC found that the radical right grew explosively in 2011. According to the SPLC, the growth was fueled by fears generated by economic dislocation; a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories; the changing racial and ethnic demographics in America; and the prospect of four more years under an African-American president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.

The anti government, heavily armed “Patriot” militia movement is composed of conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy are the fastest growing. They are of particular concern for law enforcement as they reject all U.S. laws, as well as taxation and American currency. An FBI report published in 2011 said "lone-offender sovereign-citizen extremists have killed six law enforcement officers" since 2000.
Beirich leads SPLC's Intelligence Project, “one of the most respected anti-terror organizations in the world.”. She testified that a scholarly study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that white Americans believe that progress in race relations since the 1950s has come at their expense and that bias against whites is more of a social problem in the last decade than bias against blacks. (This comes against the backdrop of the Census Bureau’s prediction that non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority, falling to less than 50% of the population, by 2050.) SPLC believes that these kinds of feelings will certainly continue to fuel the rise in radical-right extremism. "It seems certain that President Obama, if he is reelected, will continue to be a lightning rod for many on the radical right, a man who represents both the federal government and the fact that the racial make-up of the United States is changing. And that suggests that far-right extremism could get worse before it gets better. It is for this reason that domestic hate groups need to be watched vigilantly by federal law enforcement, and the issue of hate crimes needs to be a high priority."

Some recent attacks by domestic extremists:

Last November, the FBI arrested four members of a Georgia militia who were accused of various crimes in a wide-ranging plot to attack cities with the deadly ricin toxin and kill federal law enforcement and IRS officials. One of the plotters reportedly said, “The first ones that need to die are the ones in the federal buildings.” Their concrete actions allegedly included attempting to purchase a briefcase-size bomb, casing two buildings for bombing, and trying to manufac­ture the deadly toxin.

A neo-Nazi headed for the Arizona border with a dozen homemade grenades that he reportedly intended to use on undocumented migrants; a white supremacist attempted to bomb a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash., an attack that was averted when police dismantled a sophisticated anti-personnel weapon; and a man who officials said had a long history of antigovernment activities was arrested outside a packed mosque in Dearborn, Mich., and charged with possessing explosives with unlawful intent.
(Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Watch Blog)