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Was Wisconsin temple shooting 'domestic terrorism'?

The FBI has been called into the Wisconsin Sikh temple investigation on the grounds that shooter Wade Michael Page had ties to white supremacist organizations, but no motive has yet been determined.

By Staff writer / August 6, 2012

A man speaks with a police officer with television equipment in the background outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, Wis. on Monday.

Jeffrey Phelps/AP

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Wade Michael Page, the gunman who killed six people inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday, had ties to white supremacist organizations, according to wire service reports and a nonprofit group that tracks hate crimes in the US.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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If that connection is true, was the attack an act of domestic terrorism? That is how local police are describing the murders, and on those grounds the FBI has been called in to investigate the crime.

“While the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson on Sunday.

According to the Associated Press, Wade Michael Page was a 40-year-old Army veteran who joined the Army in 1992 and was discharged in 1998. Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee and began shooting as several dozen people prepared for Sunday services. At the end, seven people lay dead, including Page, who was shot to death by police.

Page was known to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows extremist organizations. On Tuesday SPLC researcher Mark Potok described him as a frustrated neo-Nazi who was the leader of a racist, white-power band.

In 2010, Page appears to have given an interview to a white supremacist website regarding his music. His band’s name, “End Apathy," was meant to reflect his desire to “figure out how to end people’s apathetic ways," he said.

Page told the website he had attended white-power concerts throughout the US. According to the SPLC, in 2000 he had also tried to purchase unnamed items from the National Alliance, then one of the most important neo-Nazi hate groups in the nation.

Since 2000, hate groups have been surging in the nation, claims the SPLC, increasing by 69 percent.

“This surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president,” writes the group.

Domestic terrorism is defined as violence within the United States intended to influence, intimidate, or coerce both the population and the government, according to the language of the USA Patriot Act. If alleged attacker Page meant the shootings at the Sikh temple to “end apathy” in some manner known only to him, it would appear that those actions indeed qualify under this definition.

Most Americans may think of Islamic extremism when they hear the word “terrorism.” However, as the tragedy in Wisconsin unfortunately highlights, the vast majority of these attacks in the US are carried out by non-Islamic American extremists.

“Many law enforcement groups, like the FBI, use the labels of domestic terrorism and violent extremism interchangeably,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations in a 2011 study on the subject.

To provide some context, the National Counter Terrorism Center does not list the United States among the top 15 nations afflicted by terrorism worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, nations roiled by wider conflicts top that list, with Afghanistan and Iraq ranking at the top of both numbers of attacks and terrorism deaths. In Afghanistan last year, more than 3,300 people were killed by some 2,800 terrorist attacks, according to the NCTC 2011 annual report.

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