A young girl leans on a man, both holding candles during a vigil

On the Sikh temple massacre and domestic terrorism

A young girl leans on a man, both holding candles during a vigil

Photo by AP/Jeffrey Phelps, via Salon

The incomprehensible violence that took place on 9/11 almost 11 years ago scarred us all. It has impacted the psyche of everyone in the US so much that politicians have been able to use “terrorism” as justification for actions that step far outside the realm of conscience or constitutionality (none of this was new post-9/11, but we certainly saw an escalation and re-commitment to terrorism as the justification with all the “War on Terror” rhetoric).

But while we don’t always talk about it in this language, that was not the last act of terrorism to happen in the US. In the past 11 years we’ve seen a spike in violence against the Sikh community. There was a wave of attacks immediately following 9/11 that seemed to slow down. I’m sure Sikhs in this country is heartbroken and scared to see that the violence is apparently not over.

This is terrorism, violence targeted at a specific group of people because of their beliefs and identity. It’s designed to intimidate them, to make them feel they don’t belong here, that they can’t go on living their lives and practicing their faith. The campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence targeted at Sikhs in the last 11 years has been and continues to be domestic terrorism.

This is not an isolated incident of violence, and this is not an isolated campaign of terrorism, either. This is part of a broader wave of domestic terrorism targeted at anyone who could be perceived as Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian… We’re already learning the shooter had ties to racist groups. You’ve got to be a supremely ignorant ass racist to be one of the terrorists who’s targeted Sikhs “because of 9/11.” The bigots are clearly not discerning, laying the blame for 9/11 broadly enough that anyone who’s brown could feel like a target. (Update: a mosque in Missouri burned to the ground the day after the shooting, and it sounds like arson.)

This is not the only campaign of race-based violence that is terrorizing a whole community in the US. We’ve got young Black men like Trayvon Martin being summarily executed in the street. And it’s not just civilian violence too. We’ve got cops executing a young Black man, Chavis Carter, in the back of their car. I’m sorry, that’s an alleged execution, because they say the handcuffed man committed suicide.

Campaigns of violence designed to intimidate people out of living their lives aren’t just about race, either. In recent years we’ve seen a spike in attacks on clinics that provide abortions, and the tragic assassination of Dr. Tiller. The goal is to make people feel unsafe providing or seeking abortion care. It’s the use of violence to force an ideology down everyone’s throats, to keep people from acting on beliefs the attackers disagree with. It’s terrorism.

I know a little something about living with the threat of violence because I’m a trans woman. We’re the group of people most likely to experience gender-based violence, and while I’d like to say that doesn’t impact my life, it does. Especially when I lived in Washington, DC, which is a very transphobic city, I’d sometimes be afraid to walk down the street. Just leaving my house in the morning was an act of bravery. This is what it’s like to live under the threat of terrorism, as a potential target. That fear everyone felt in the wake of 9/11 is like the fear many of us feel because we could be targeted for who we are, or even for the health care we provide. It makes people question their choices. Should I really go to the temple today, is it really safe? Should I wear the clothes I want to wear, but that might signal to a bigot that I practice one of those religions they hate? Can I really keep providing this necessary health care when it could put me in danger?

I don’t want to diminish what happened in Wisconsin by bringing up these other acts of violence and other campaigns of terror. I want to treat this tragedy with the attention it deserves, which to me means not letting it be seen as an isolated incident. Because it’s not. This is an individual tragedy that happened to these individual people. But it’s also part of something more, and I think part of how we show respect for the victims is recognizing that fact so we can actually talk about how this cannot happen again.

9/11 has been used as justification to target communities, like immigrants to the US. But the domestic terrorism that’s occurred since than has been committed overwhelmingly by disturbed white men with easy access to weapons meant for killing people. We can’t forget this fact. Terrorism at the national level is used to justify identity-based profiling. But it’s been white men from within the US who have been terrorizing other people in this country at alarming rates in the past 11 years.

I’m heartbroken. I’m scared that the violence against Sikhs is apparently not over. I don’t know what to feel or think. But I know this isn’t an isolated incident. And I want us to start talking about the reality of how terrorism’s being used, the fact that it’s a part of everyday life for so many communities of people in this country. Right now, terrorism is seen as this vague threat from outside that can be used to justify seemingly anything. I want us to get real about the state of terror we’re living in. Maybe then we can talk about ending the use of “terrorism” as a threat to target and intimidate communities not seen as “American” enough, and instead look at the way actual terrorism is targeting communities in this country, including those who have been stereotyped as terrorists.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/tetesagehen/ Tae Phoenix

    This comes down to an “us vs. them” question. When people say “terrorism,” they’re talking about foreigners (presumably brown and Muslim) attacking the United States. When people say “domestic terrorism,” they’re talking about Americans (ostensibly white, male, and Christian) attacking a specific group (the government, Sikhs, Muslims, trans people) or just unleashing mass murder inside the United States.

    What’s weird about the way that heirarchy is set up is that it reinforces what is considered normal terrorism vs. what is considered abnormal terrorism. Typically, a putting a modifier in front of another word indicates that it is a subset of the norm. For example: “oral” or “anal” placed in front of the word “sex” implying that PinV is “normal” sex. Or the way that you’re assumed to be straight, cis, etc. unless you out yourself to be otherwise.

    According to this linguistic model, you’d assume that “normal” terrorism is committed against the United States by brown, Muslim foreigners. But unless I’m very much mistaken, the vast majority of terrorist acts committed on U.S. soil have been by white, American dudes.

    That use of the “domestic” modifier when talking about white, American dudes committing atrocious acts of violence really reveals our preconceptions about who usually commits terrorism vs. the facts.

    • http://feministing.com/members/alita/ Alita

      Thats even if it gets called domestic “terrorism.” if you are a white American and you commit an act of terrorism the media will bend over backwards to AVOID calling your actions “terrorism” ie a few years ago when that American flew a plane into the IRS building.

      the golden rule-if you aint Muslim and brown its not terrorism apparently-and this train of thought upholds that awful “truth” a lot of UK “newspapers” try to uphold being “most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim.” ugh!