In the strongest denunciation to date by a U.S. law enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday labeled the attack on a Sikh temple that killed six worshippers "an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime."
Holder spoke at an emotional memorial service for the victims of the attack that emphasized healing and forgiveness instead of retribution for the shooting rampage by an Army veteran who killed himself after being wounded by police gunfire.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Sikhs in America have been targeted by revenge-seekers who apparently have mistaken them for Muslims, perhaps due to the traditional turbans they wear and their dark skin.
"In the recent past, too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply because of who they are, how they look, and what they believe," Holder said. "That is wrong. It is unacceptable. And it will not be tolerated."
He called for a national discussion on changing laws to prevent future shooting attacks, as well as "how we might change the hearts of those so filled with hate that the despicable act we mourn today could ever have occurred." Holder mentioned no specific laws.
Holder also declared the attack at the Sikh gurdwara, or house of worship, in a Milwaukee suburb to be "an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime "that is anathema to the founding principles of our nation and to who we are as an American people."
Earlier, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said the Sikh community lived the words of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this week by responding with love to the attack.
Wearing an orange head covering in keeping with Sikh tradition, Walker quoted King's assertion that only love can overcome hate, and said he witnessed that truth in the aftermath of Sunday's attack at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb.
"This week, our friends and neighbors in the Sikh community have shown us the best way to respond is with love," the Republican governor told the hundreds of mourners who filled the Oak Creek High School gymnasium for the service.
As Friday's service began, three Sikh musicians in dark turbans sat cross-legged on the ground next to a row of six coffins and large, framed photos of the dead.