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Sikh temple shooting renews fears over white supremacist groups (+video)

The gunman who killed six people in the Sikh temple shooting was in a hardcore racist rock band. Experts say white supremacist groups are on the rise, fueled by a bad economy and the election of a black president.

By Ron SchererStaff Writer, Kevin LoriaContributor / August 6, 2012

Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin react at a news conference at Oak Creek Centennial church in Oak Creek, Wis. on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. Officials and witnesses said a gunman walked into the temple on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 and opened fire as several dozen people prepared for Sunday morning services. Six were killed, and three were critically wounded.

Jeffrey Phelps/AP

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NEW YORK

The deadly shooting at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee is renewing concern about the white supremacist movement in the United States, which experts say is on the rise in large part because of the weak economy and a visceral distrust among some people of the first African-American president.

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Shooting Impacts Sikh Community

Wade Michael Page, who gunned down six people Sunday before being shot and killed by police, was a member of a hardcore rock band that was part of underground movement featuring racist ideologies and he had coded racist tattoos. Police have not released any details as to Mr. Page’s motivations.

Despite the increase in the number of hate groups, however, it is relatively rare for their vitriol to result in actual violence, experts say. Instead, their invective shows up on website chat rooms and in social media like Facebook and Twitter, using relatively obscure names oftentimes related to Adolf Hitler.

White supremacist members, often with shaved heads and tattoos extolling the Nazi cause, meet periodically at barbeques and concerts that receive little advance publicity. Their music is often filled with lyrics that appeal to alienated individuals.

“The election of President Obama was a lightening rod for the extremist community,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “They regard his election as a marker for the destruction of American society.”

High unemployment caused by the lingering economic recession often fuels resentment, causing groups to lash out at immigrants or others often competing for low-wage jobs. The Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks caused a backlash against Muslims, and attacks have been reported on Sikhs by people confusing them with Muslims.

At the same time that hate groups appear to be on the rise, hate crimes have fallen to a 14-year low, Mr. Levin says. Hate crime homicides are relatively rare.

“The last ten years we’ve averaged under a dozen a year,” Levin says. “But most years it’s in single digits.”

When they do take place, the odds are good a white supremacist was involved. According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, 85 percent of all extremist-related murders are committed by white supremacists.

The ADL, which has been tracking the groups for decades, estimates there are at least 100,000 people in the US who call themselves white supremacists.

“There are far more we have not identified, 100,000 could be low balling,” Mr. Pitcavage says.

Levin estimates there are about 1,000 hate groups with such names as Hammerskins, the Aryan Terror Brigade and the American Nazi Party.  

“There has been a yearly increase” in the number of such groups, he says.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama organization that also tracks such groups, there is a hate group in every state. California, with 84 such groups, has the most, followed by Georgia (65), Florida (55), Texas (45) and Mississippi (41).

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