On August 6th, 2012 Wade Michael Page – identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as having ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations – open fired at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights responded yesterday by holding a public hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.” This hearing came after the Sikh Coalition mobilized over 150 organizations – including the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and several other Jewish groups – to write to the committee and request it.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Chairman of the Subcommittee, opened the hearing by naming and presenting pictures of each victim of the attack in Oak Creek. He followed by stating that, while there had been numerous hearings about the threat posed to the United States by so-called “home-grown” Islamic extremists, “this is the first hearing in many years to address domestic violent extremism.”
The purposes of the hearing were, Senator Durbin explained, to understand how the Federal government could better support the Sikh community and other minorities not specifically addressed by current hate crimes legislation, examine the current state of the enforcement of hate crimes legislation, and ask what more could be done to curtail the threat of violent domestic extremism. The multifaceted objective of this hearing was represented by the range of voices present on the witness list.
Roy Austin Jr., a Deputy Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, applauded the cooperation among federal agencies to combat hate crimes and domestic extremism and called for a redoubled effort to coordinate these efforts. Daryl Johnson, founder of DT Analytics (a consulting firm on terrorism, domestic extremism and radicalization), demanded closer attention to violence perpetrated by right-wing extremists, noting that weapons collected from one militia group in Michigan outnumbered the total number of weapons found in the hands of radical domestic Muslims since 9/11. Finally, Harpreet Singh Saini, a freshman at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and the son of one of those killed in Oak Creek, gave an impassioned personal testimony saying, “My mother was an American, and this was not supposed to be a part of her American story.” He concluded with a request that Sikh’s be added to the list of groups about whom federal hate crimes data is collected by requesting that “My mother be given the dignity of being a statistic.”
Rabbi David Saperstein – who has worked for over a decade on the passage and implementation of hate crimes laws – echoed this request for a more accurate picture of hate crimes and domestic extremism in the United States in written testimony submitted for the hearing. “Violent extremism not only threatens Jews, Muslims and the LGBT community,” Saperstein asserted, “but is a threat to our national security as a whole.” Click here to read the full text of his testimony.