Four days after the towers fell in 2001, a man in a black pick-up truck screeched to a halt in front of a gas station in Arizona owned by Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian-American and a Sikh. The man in the truck was Frank Roque, who shot and killed Sodhi and then continued on a rampage of attacks in reprisal for 9/11. He wanted to kill some “towel-heads,” and, sadly he is not the only one who has felt this way. On the morning of August 5, a man named Wade M. Page entered a Sikh Temple, called a gurdwara, with a loaded weapon and went on a shooting-spree that left six dead, three wounded. Page was shot by police and, according to the FBI, then turned the gun on himself.
In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting in Aurora, CO, the media worked desperately to report whatever details they could about the perpetrator. One of the details they shared was that the movie-theater shooter, James Holmes, had not been in the military. Page, however, had served in the Army from 1992-1998 and was then given a general discharge. He attained the rank of sergeant, but was demoted one rank before he was separated from the Army and barred from reenlistment. He had never seen combat nor been deployed to a combat zone. He was active in the white supremacist community and even fronted a band, End Apathy, which wrote and performed music with racist themes.
It is unclear whether Page was unaware of the distinction between Sikhs and Muslims, or merely just didn’t care. Attacks against Muslims after 9/11 follow some sort of twisted, perverse sense of vengeance; the attacks against the Sikh communities represent a different kind of ignorance. The Sikhs are as different from Muslims in terms of their beliefs and practices as from any other religion. Given Page’s history of hateful activities, it is possible to speculate that this wasn’t the same sort of reprisal attack typically “meant” for peaceful Muslims, that it was enough for him that they were different.
The military is a diverse group of people. It really is a cross-section of the national population. I have served with religious folks of all types, atheists, conservatives, democrats, and, yes, racists. While many civilians only know of the negative specter of the “dishonorable discharge,” those in the military are aware that a general discharge is almost as bad. The general discharge is often given to soldiers who have made grave, almost irreparable mistakes. That he was barred from reenlisting and demoted back to E-4, indicate that his separation was not a proud one. Pentagon officials report his service record had a pattern of ”discreditable incidents,” and after showing up to formation intoxicated was separated from the military.
Ironically, Page is propagating another kind of stereotype that has been forming in the American consciousness, one not as easily repellant as Page’s brand of hate. It is why the media reported that the Aurora CO shooter, James Holmes, was not a member of the military and why no one was overly surprised that Wade Page was a veteran of the armed forces. It’s the “war-damage” stigma and like all stereotypes, nuance and facts have no place in disabusing the faithful of that belief. This sort of violence is not something like lurks beneath the surface of all veterans.
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