Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Columns

Getting accustomed to mayhem

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:19 PM

In May 2011, a tornado blew through Joplin, Mo., and flattened much of it. More than 150 people were killed.

A storm of another sort blew through Joplin early Monday. The city's only mosque burned to the ground in the third attack on the building. In 2007, somebody burned the mosque's sign. A security camera captured the image of a white man setting fire to the roof last month. This time, the security cameras were destroyed.

Security cameras apparently no longer suffice at houses of worship. If the doors of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., had been locked during services Sunday morning, perhaps some of the six people whom white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed would be alive.

This is what we've come to. The extraordinary weather of the last year, including Joplin's tornado, is the byproduct of climate change, scientists say, but some people insist that climate change is a lie. Will they deny the facts of this other extremism, too?

Oak Creek's victims are not the first Sikhs to die. In a country that counts religious tolerance among its highest values, we are too ignorant to be able to distinguish Sikhs from Muslims. So enraged, armed, white men who think they are patriots gun down Sikhs because they are convinced the Sikhs are Arabs — as though that justifies homicide in the wake of 9/11.

Irony is delicious. When President Obama was asked his reaction to the shooting in Oak Creek, he lamented this way: "Regardless of what we look like, where we come from, or where we worship, we're all one people," he said.

Is he kidding? The person who has been most vilified for not being one of us is Obama himself. He is not white, he comes from Kenya, and many people — as resistant to facts as the climate change deniers — insist he is a Muslim. The Boston Globe reported less than a year after Obama was elected that the Secret Service was coping with a record number of threats against his life. Nothing has changed: last April, a billionaire supporter of then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he hoped Obama's teleprompters were bulletproof. Before that, Tea Partiers were toting guns to their rallies.

The Sikhs killed Sunday are not the first to be murdered in a church in an act that suggests extremism from the right. Scott Roeder, who said he was out to protect life, burst into a Wichita church in 2009 and killed Dr. George Tiller, the city's only abortion provider.

This is not a plea for gun control. The nation is too well-armed to make gun control practical, and the NRA believes the deranged, like Jared Lee Loughner and James Holmes, deserve Second Amendment protection.

No, this is a plea for us to say, as the current cliché goes, that it is what it is. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on the rise of domestic terrorism, particularly from the right, over abortion, immigration, racism, economic hardship and anti-government feeling. Conservatives cried that the report was intended to demonize them. The reaction was typically over-the-top: the editors of the National Review did not storm that Sikh temple. A racist riding a national wave of hate did.

Last March, three years after the DHS report, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a ten-fold increase in what it calls "patriot groups," whose hallmark is deep anti-government suspicion, the very sort of suspicion that might lead a man like Wade Michael Page to believe the revolution was coming, and he needed to charge the hill.

Page was on the extreme fringe of the fringe whose crazy beliefs we now consider normal, crazy beliefs and crazier claims that the politicians who feed off the fringe do not condemn. Murder is not the only crime here; silence is. No one should be surprised by the slaughter of the innocents in Wisconsin. God help us, but there will almost certainly be more.


Mary Jo Melone, former columnist with the Tampa Bay Times, is a writer in Tampa.
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