What the President said, and didn’t say, about the Oak Creek, WI, shooting

In his speech today about the US government’s counter-terrorism activities and strategy, President Barack Obama made reference to home-grown radicalized “individuals”, citing explicitly the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek last August:

Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City – America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time.

While this speech certainly warrants significant discussion and analysis about US counter-terrorism activity to date, the reference to the mass murder of six Sikhs last August was salient in what was said and not said.

This reference to US right wing extremism in the President’s speech was the only discussion of terrorism not involving that done in the name of Islam, but unlike much of the rest of his speech, the President did not identify the specific perpetrator of the violence ( which in the case of the attack on the Sikh Temple was a white supremacist), or the movement in which this culprit was active. In what seems a common trend, the violence perpetrated in the name of white supremacy was left unspoken. And, after this mention, the President reverted back to his discussion of terrorism related to Al Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, a topic that was the dominant subject of his hour-long speech.

Beyond this statement, the President offered little indication about how the government would address these home-grown radicalized “individuals”. The use of the word “individuals” is also salient; there was no mention of the active and organized white supremacy movement/subculture within the United States from which these individuals spawn to commit acts of hate, violence and terror on innocent and often unsuspecting people. The entire white supremacy movement was reduced to the acts of a few rogue individuals (though we know that these individuals do not arise from a vacuum). Further, the framing these acts of domestic extremist violence in the past tense (“America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time”) suggests that such violence is a relic of the past, and not a form of extremism that currently exists now or that is growing into the future.

While such scant discussion in the President’s speech about right wing and white supremacist violence is disappointing, the silver lining is that there was at least a nominal recognition as terrorism — even if minimized to “individuals” — of the targeted attack by a white supremacist on Sikh worshipers last August. We can only hope that this is a preliminary step in the direction of taking broader action against the growing number of organized groups within this country who seek to do harm to innocent people based on race and ethnicity.

Read President Obama’s full remarks here.


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