‘Radical Agenda’

Good morning, it’s Monday, August 5, 2019. Seven years ago today, regular Sunday activities were getting started at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, located in the normally peaceful Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. Although worship services weren’t set to begin until 11:30 a.m., some congregants were already gathered in the main temple.

In the basement kitchen, women were preparing roti and other traditional Punjabi food for the “langar,” a shared meal that is part of the Sikh tradition. In an adjoining building, children were attending Sunday school classes. Thank God.

The first emergency call was recorded at 10:26 a.m. Gunshots. Hearing the call on his radio, Brian L. Murphy, a lieutenant with the Oak Creek Police Department, realized he was only two minutes away. He rushed to the scene, and exchanged gunfire in the parking lot with a tattooed man in a white T-shirt who had emerged from the temple, having shot eight people in a matter of seconds. Murphy fired at the mass shooter, but missed. The killer, who received his firearms training in the U.S. Army, didn’t miss. He hit Murphy with 15 shots. Three of them struck his bullet-proof vest, but 12 went into his body, including one in the face.

A fellow officer arrived to shoot at the killer, who then turned his gun on himself. Officers swarmed to Lt. Murphy. I’m all right, he told them; go attend to the worshipers in the temple. Miraculously he survived. Six of the worshipers, including the temple president, did not.

In the aftermath of the August 5, 2012 shooting, first lady Michelle Obama visited Oak Creek to console the survivors. Mrs. Obama did not take questions from the media. She wasn’t there to grandstand, and besides, she had no answers. Journalists present reported that she spoke briefly with temple secretary Kulwant Dhaliwal and the local mayor, telling them quietly, “It’s my honor to be here with you. I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances, but I am anxious to meet with the families and lend whatever support I can.”

Any mass shooting is a shock to decent people, a stress on the civic bonds that connect society. But the shooting at the Sikh Temple hurt this country more than most. Partly this is because it was in a place of worship. Partly it was because it occurred only 16 days after another horrifying mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Americans immediately wondered: Was there any connection? The Sikh temple shooter grew up in another Denver suburb, joined the Army, and became a radicalized neo-Nazi who couldn’t hold a job.

Attorney General Eric Holder labeled the attack “a hate crime,” which almost seems an axiomatic description of this kind of terrorism. Lax gun laws and undiagnosed mental health issues are invariably invoked as additional factors, but what the country wanted to know then and wants to know today — especially as we reel from two mass shootings in 24 hours — is how these rampages can be prevented. And whether we can summon the political courage and national will to even try.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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