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San Diego Sikh Community Reaches Out After Mass Shooting In Wisconsin

August 7, 2012 1:34 p.m.


Gurinder Singh, Vice President, Sikh Foundation San Diego.

Amardeep Singh, Director of Operations, Sikh Foundation San Diego.

Brian Levin, Director, Center on Hate & Extremism, California State University, San Bernardino

Oscar Garcia, Deputy District Attorney, San Diego District Attorney's Hate Crimes Unit

Related Story: San Diego Sikh Community Reaches Out After Mass Shooting In Wisconsin


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, members of the Sikh community in San Diego County are mourning the deaths of six worshipers at a Wisconsin Sikh Temple on Sunday. The victims were killed by a gunman described as a white supremacist. The Sikh religion is among the least familiar faiths in America. Since the 911 attacks, there have been more than 700 attacks against Sikhs in the U.S. caution has become a fact of life for many in the Sikh community. I'd like to introduce my guests, Gurinder Singh is vice president of the Sikh foundation in San Diego. GURINDER SINGH: Thank you, Maureen. Thanks for inviting me.

CAVANAUGH: And Amardeep Singh is director of the Sikh Foundation of San Diego. Now did anyone in the Temples in Poway or Escondido have ties to the victims in Wisconsin? GURINDER SINGH: I think one of our priests did. And I can let Amardeep speak about that

AMARDEEP SINGH: One of our priests was childhood friends and did his learning for becoming a priest with two of the priests that were shot, and unfortunately died, in Wisconsin. He was relaying the fact that he felt very -- he had a lot of grief and sorrow. And he had just spoken to one of them a few days back as well. So he was in complete shock for a while.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Amardeep, when you heard of this shooting, did you react in the sense that you need to have more security at the Temples here in San Diego County? Have you thought about that?

AMARDEEP SINGH: It is a thought. But at the same time, we can't live in fear. When you take one of what's considered our most historical Temples that we have, its doors are open from all four sides, which indicates that everybody is welcome to here. If we were to start shutting doors or screen or vet people coming in, it's not what our religion is about. While we all try to be more vigilant to see what's going on, we're still going to be as welcoming as we have been. And we still be open to everybody.

CAVANAUGH: How large is the Sikh community in San Diego? GURINDER SINGH: We have about 400 familieses, but they are spread between Escondido and Poway. About 100-3 hundred families.

CAVANAUGH: This seek coalition reports that more than 700 hate crimes against Sikhs have taken place since 911. What has your experience been here in San Diego? GURINDER SINGH: My experience has been all positive. But there have been some stares, and you know, things that happen, people drive up to you and say something. But it's a learning moment for me to teach my kids about hate, and I even try to reach out to the police department and what they said is hey, there's not much we can do about that, but it's unfortunate, so I think we got to start it from kindergarten and teach our kids about differences. We're all American. We might look different, but we all believe in the same values. Sikh values align well with the American values. Belief in equality of all human beings, and we have all one spirit. But my experience has been -- there have been some negative, but the positives outweigh the negatives. So I don't want to harp on that.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, Amardeep, is Gurinder's experience here representative of the entire Sikh community in San Diego? Have you heard of instances that are a bit more serious than the kinds of things he was telling us?

AMARDEEP SINGH: Yes, unfortunately just after 911, what we consider aunties, a somewhat older lady was attacked out of a car. She was stabbed as she was trying to get into a car, and luckily, she was able to drive off without there being any serious injuries. At the same time, we're a welcoming set of people, we always have a smile on our face, and we always try to meet and greet people that want to come up and say hello N. A few occasions where somebody has said something bad, you just have to brush it off and say, hey, look, because of my identity, you are going to get some people who don't understand what he woo stand up for, and what our beliefs are. But that's fine, if you want to learn, let's sit down and have a conversation.

CAVANAUGH: Sikhs are noted for not being the kind of religion that seeks converts; is that right?

AMARDEEP SINGH: That's correct, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Brian levin, you're director of the center on hate and extremist in San Bernardino. Is it clear that what happened in Wisconsin was a hate crime?

LEVIN: It probably is, but we'll never know because we don't have the ability to talk to the suspect about his motive.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Because he was one of the people who -- well, he was killed by police during the shooting. Have Sikhs been the target of hate crimes for themselves or because they are mistaken for another religion?

LEVIN: I think both. Certainly we saw a homicide right after 911 on September 5th in Arizona. There's also a double homicide being investigated in Northern California. We've seen arsons, vandalisms, bullying, the cutting of hair. So we've seen a lot of this. I do think some of this though is going to be related not just to confusion with Muslim people but also because these individuals are regarded as outsiders who look different and are there are regarded as enemies who are not part of the white culture that has built America that is part of the belief system of hardcore hate mongers.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And that's your specialty, studying white supremacist groups. You have some unique insights into the shooter. He actually lived in Southern California for a number of years. What was his connection to white supremacy groups?

LEVIN: Great question. What I'm going to do is cheat a little bit by plainlyingerizing one of our center's advisory board members, Pete Simi who actually had extensive contact with Mr. Page over a few years in the earlier part of the last decade. He is a part of the hate music scene that existed in Orange County at the time, there was a gathering place called the Shack which has burnt down. He started out in hate rock group that was considered more of the adult contemporary version called Youngland, he then played in other groups included End Apathy, and Death Knit Hate. He was such a good bassist that he also filled in in a variety of other hate rock group, including Max Resist, Intimidation 1, and Blueeyed Devils. So he was very well known in the hate rock group. I also understand that he got his hardcore bigotry when he was in the army, and he fits a -- many of the characteristics that we see in other violent mass shooters. He was psychologically and socially isolated. He had an itinerant job history, deadend, unemployed. Turbulent relationships with women. And most interestingly, and this is confirmed by other sources as well, is he had a severe drinking problem. So all of this put together creates someone who is isolated, who is angry, who is probably depressed. And he becomes part of the belief system that both amplifies violent rhetoric and directs where this aggression should go. And we've seen with young skinheads, the mixture of alcohol and music can often become a volatile one. A couple of Neo-Nazi soldiers from Fort Bragg where Pete was stationed murdered a black couple off-base after getting drunk, and listening to hate rock.

CAVANAUGH: I hate to interrupt you, Brian, but I want to get this to San Diego here

LEVIN: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to bring in Oscar Garcia. He's on the line with us now, deputy district attorney in the hate crimes unit. You hear what Brian has been saying. What do we know about white supremacy groups operation in San Diego County?

GARCIA: We definitely do have documented groups here in San Diego County, Southern California being a hotbed for the Nazi movement. Fortunately we haven't seen the type of extreme violence that we've seen in other parts of the nation. We've been fortunate in that respect here in San Diego. We meet regularly with law enforcement specialists who specialize in hate crimes. And we try to keep track of those groups.

CAVANAUGH: Oscar, what down about the hate rock scene that Brian was talking to us about? Is that something that's popular here in San Diego County?

GARCIA: In San Diego County and throughout the nation. I know at the police academy, we teach with representatives from the antidefamation league who talks to the young police cadets about how that is used as a tool on the Internet, the hate-type music to recruit young individuals who are lost and looking for somewhere to belong. So we definitely see that as an avenue for hate groups to try to recruit young members.

CAVANAUGH: What if anything is San Diego law enforcement doing to protect the local Sikh community against hate crimes?

GARCIA: Well, interestingly, a representative from the Sikh community approached me at a recent hate crime forum a few months ago. And they wanted to come to one of our classes at the police academy where we teach the cadets about hate crimes to talk to the cadets about the articles of faith they carry, and just to have a -- to learn a little bit more about the Sikh community, so when they encounter them in the streets or if they're potential hate crime victims as well, they'll be that much more knowledgeable about their faith.

CAVANAUGH: Before I let you go, the last time we talked accident it was about the murder of 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant, Shaima Alawadi, found beaten to death in her Chone home. At that time, it was being looked at as a possible hate crime.

GARCIA: Since no arrest has been made as of yet, to my knowledge it is still an open investigation. Back then the police made it clear that they were looking at other possible motives, in addition to the possibility of a hate crime. There was certainly other evidence that they were investigating, which may take them in another direction.

CAVANAUGH: Let me go back to you Brian, I think a lot of us longtime San Diego residents are familiar that San Diego has had quite a history with hate groups and white supremacists. Can you remind us about that?

LEVIN: Yeah, there's a real rich history. You have a legend down there, Morris Casuto, who fought many of these battles firsthand. There was a Border Patrol in San Diego County decades ago. Tom Metzger who was the head of white Aryan resistance ran for Congress. Some years ago, he moved out to Indiana. He got thousands of votes in the congressional run, and he was a TV repair man out in Fallbrook, and he was involved or linked to an attack up in Portland where he was assessed a multimillion dollar verdict. Alex Curtis who was both a clansman, and a Neo-Nazi skinhead type, threatened people like members of Congress, and the head of the ADL. So there's been a very rich history with extreme right wing hate groups. And we've also had that terrible attack against a moreover a decade ago.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And the southern poverty law center was crucial in breaking I believe the white supremacist group headed by Tom Metzger in that Seattle judgment against that group that broke it financially. Let me go back to guests in-studio. Gurinder, I heard today listening to the radio about the attack in Wisconsin that one of the reactions of the Sikh community there is to reach out to the larger community to educate people about their religion. Have you been doing that here? GURINDER SINGH: Yes. We've been trying to do that. So we are hoping that this media coverage will help with that. It's good for us to reach out. As you mentioned before, we are not seeking any converts. So we basically -- we believe that everybody is on the right path, you know, as long as they carry on it, they'll get to -- we believe in one creator. But yes, we've been trying to do that. And as we have this Wednesday, we actually are having a candlelight vigil from 7:30 to 8:00, and we are inviting all our interfaith, and everybody who can join us to come in and participate in the vigil for the victims and also for the speedy recovery of people who are injured. And we're also going to have a service on Sunday. And as Amardeep mentioned before, a Sikh house of worship is open to everybody all the time. People might not know about it. And there's always a free vegetarian meal after everybody service. Everybody is welcome. And any time you are passing by, you can stop by and have a meal and learn about us.

CAVANAUGH: Amardeep, do you feel feel in San Diego County?

AMARDEEP SINGH: Absolutely. Absolutely. It was kind of an eye-opener hearing -- I forgot the name of the person there.

CAVANAUGH: Brian Levin.

AMARDEEP SINGH: Yeah, about some of the things that were going on. But absolutely we feel safe. I mean this is America's finest city.


CAVANAUGH: All right! Well, I really appreciate both of you coming in and speaking with us today. Both with the Sikh foundation in San Diego, and I was speaking with Brian levin with the center on hate and extremist at California state university in San Bernardino. GURINDER SINGH: Thank you all.