Unlike the killings last month in Aurora, Colorado, and the attempted assassination last year of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, the FBI is investigating a gunman’s rampage that killed six people at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee as a domestic terrorism incident.
By giving it that label, federal and local law enforcement can tap the resources of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces, said Pat Rowan, a partner at McGuireWoods LLP, a Washington law firm who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s national security division under President George W. Bush. These multi-agency teams have access to past investigations and databases that may prove useful in the probe, he said.
“It’s really about the motive and not how many people were injured,” Rowan said.
Under the USA Patriot Act, domestic terrorism occurs when a person intends “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”
The incident at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, two days ago ended when Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran, was shot dead by police. He appeared to target turbaned men as he moved through the building, a member of the temple, Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, told CNN.
Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies hate crimes, described Page in a website posting as “a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been leader of a racist white-power band” called End Apathy.
Previous attacks on members of the Sikh community across the country led more than 90 members of Congress to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in April. The lawmakers said the “hate-motivated attacks” were a “growing concern” and urged the FBI and the Justice Department to monitor those incidents as hate crimes.
The deadly shooting at the Colorado movie theater on July 20 probably wasn’t investigated as domestic terrorism because the motivations of the accused killer, James Holmes, appeared to be tied to mental illness, not politics, said Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security.
Holmes is likely to use an insanity defense, said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver who is now in private practice.
Likewise, the focus of the case in the Jan. 8, 2011, attack on Giffords and constituents attending a town hall session outside a Tucson supermarket has been the mental state of the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner.
Loughner may plead guilty under a deal that could lead to a life prison term, the Associated Press reported.