I Could Have Been the Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooter.
As details emerge about Wade Michael Page, the gunman who entered a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and killed six worshipers, I realize how much I have in common with this man.
Like Page, I was discharged from the military.
- Page served in the United States Army from 1992 until discharged after several incidents of misconduct, including alcohol abuse and going AWOL, in 1998. He was part of a “psy-ops” unit, which deploys to help win the hearts and minds of local populations in conflict zones through various forms of media.
- I joined the United States Marine Corps. in 2001 immediately following the September 11th terrorist attacks. I was discharged from basic training after a fellow recruit discovered me sleepwalking. My purpose for joining the military: kill as many Muslims as I could out of revenge.
Like Page, I hated those different from myself.
- After Page’s discharge from the military, he began heavy involvement in white supremacists groups and actively recruited and campaigned for its ideals. Page harbored a deep hatred for minorities and encouraged others to take action against them.
- As a xenophobic and highly judgmental Christian, I considered all non-Christians and those against American ideals as personal enemies. I regularly harassed those different from myself and joined the military for the sole purpose of eliminating those whom I felt threatened my beliefs and way of life.
Like Page, I live(d) in North Carolina.
- While in the US Army, Page was stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina…a town about 25 minutes north of my current home. He continued living there after his discharge and actively campaigned for the white supremacist cause across the state for years.
- I’ve lived in Lumberton, North Carolina for most of my life. Although remote, it’s possible that I’ve seen Page, even waved or offered a casual nod.
There is a great deal that Page and I have in common, and that fact is unnerving, but I’m left with the burning question: why didn’t I end up like him? I absolutely hated religion and people of faith. I wanted religion and its warped devotees wiped off the planet, but something happened.
Page and I followed a very similar path and both of us approached the very same fork in the road: either take the next step in our hatred (violent action), or take the more difficult road toward peace and reconciliation.
There is only one difference between Page and me: he chose to destroy others while I chose to deconstruct myself.
The shooting at the Sikh temple, the burning of religious buildings, religious bullying, genocide and ethnic cleansing…these blights on our species are occurring at such alarming rates that we can no longer consider them isolated tragedies, but the spread of a human epidemic.
Hatred was my cancer. It consumed and warped my entire being, and Project Conversion–the Path of Immersion–cured my disease. Like a substance abuse patient, I had to choose of my own free will to participate in this detox program. I had to recognize that I had a problem. Page, and others like him, do/did not recognize that there is a problem…yet.
So while we talk about the need to learn about various religions and cultures, while we talk about immersing ourselves in the lives and beliefs of the victims of these tragedies, why not extend that philosophy to include those like Page? Folks like Page are not interested in immersing themselves in those different from their point of view, so change may only come when someone immerses themselves in them and influences them gently and gradually, like a stream cutting into a mountain.
While we support the victims of tragedy, it is important to remember that while a great service, support after the fact is only reactionary. It is time we created a culture in which the very notion of hatred is utterly unacceptable. We must be the cure for this cancer and the Path of Immersion is the injection required for change.
Yes, mourn with the victims. Yes, support and love them. Then, when the season of mourning is over, commit to action. We must be the river that both erodes hatred and nourishes love in the lives of those suffering with hate, because what this shows is how close, so intimately close we are with everything and everyone…including our “enemies.”
Who do you know in your life who could use a dose of these life-giving waters?