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Wisconsin shooting: A call to counter extremist fear

The Wisconsin shootings at a Sikh temple were driven by the fears of Wade Michael Page – and designed to evoke fear. Society's answer to such extremist violence should not be more fear.

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Ruby Singh of Long Grove, Ill., participates during a prayer vigil at the Sikh Religious Society temple in Palatine, Ill. on Aug. 6. The vigil was held in memory of those killed and wounded in a weekend Sikh temple shooting near Milwaukee.

Mark Welsh, Daily Herald/AP Photo

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For two reasons, the killing rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last Sunday cannot be easily dismissed as simply that of another white supremacist or crazy person acting alone.

For one, such acts of hatred often come out of a subculture of like-minded people who condone or advocate violence based on a fear of others who are unlike them. 

And two, such killings are usually meant to create fear, either in society at large or among targeted groups such as Muslims, nonwhites, or government officials.

After a violent incident like this one, both types of fear – a public fear of a similar attack and the fear that drives a killer and his supporters – need to be addressed, and not only by law enforcement but by everyone. And for a very basic reason: Fear is what can blind people into making mistakes.

A good example is that Wade Michael Page may have believed that the Sikhs who gathered in a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., were Muslim, perhaps because male Sikhs wear turbans and grow beards.

As with many people who act out of bigotry, he had talked of nonwhites as “dirt people.” At the same time, like mass killers who take on a cosmic cause and then are frustrated at public apathy, he was equally critical of America’s “sick society.” (In fact, his white-supremacist band was named “End Apathy.”)

Discerning Mr. Page’s motives can be helpful to counteract the kind of fears that drive extremists to kill. But it can also be helpful for watchful citizens in assisting law enforcement in tracking such troubled people.

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