Wisconsin gurdwara attack united victim`s son, ex-racist

Last Updated: Monday, August 5, 2013 - 22:22

Oak Creek (Wisconsin): Six weeks after a white supremacist gunned down Pardeep Kaleka`s father and five others at a Sikh temple in the US exactly a year ago, Kaleka was skeptical when a former skinhead invited him to dinner.

But Kaleka accepted, and he`s grateful he did. Since then, the grieving son and repentant racist have formed an unlikely alliance, teaming up to preach a message of peace.

They`ve grown so close that they got matching tattoos on their palms -- the numbers 8-5-12, the date the gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before killing himself.

It wasn`t easy for Kaleka to meet Arno Michaelis, a 42-year-old who admits he contributed so heavily to the white-power movement that he might have helped influence the shooter. Kaleka knows Michaelis` history - his lead singing in a white supremacist band, the white-power and swastika tattoos, the countless fights and more than a dozen arrests.

But he also saw the good work Michaelis has done since he quit the racist movement in the mid-1990s. Kaleka, 37, wanted his father`s death to be a catalyst for peace, and he saw in Michaelis a partner whose story could reinforce the message that it`s possible to turn hate into love.

"We were both hoping ... We could take something tragic and turn it into something positive," Kaleka said. "We were both on that same mission, in our different ways."

Michaelis had written a book called "My Life After Hate," in which he describes how he lashed out at the world and how the birth of his daughter made him realise he needed to change.

The two men have teamed up to create Serve2Unite, a community group that works to counter violence with peace. Kaleka, Michaelis and others visit schools, where Kaleka describes how gunman Wade Michael Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and killed six people he didn`t know. Then Michaelis describes how the gunman`s white-supremacist background was nearly identical to his own.

Kaleka and Michaelis look nothing alike. Kaleka is a clean-cut Indian who teaches social studies. Michaelis, who`s white, has both arms covered in tattoos that mask earlier racist messages. But as they sat together in the temple recently, just down the hallway from the bedroom where Kaleka`s father was shot, they seemed like brothers, insulting each other good-naturedly and arguing over who was more handsome.

That brotherhood began at their first dinner. Sitting in his car outside the restaurant, Kaleka watched Michaelis walk inside and wondered if he was crazy to be meeting with a former skinhead.
Michaelis immediately asked about a bandage on Kaleka`s eye, the temporary remnant of a mishap Kaleka suffered while bathing his daughter.
"There was no, `Hi, how you doing?` He went straight from seeing me to showing concern," Kaleka said. After Kaleka told him what happened, Michaelis admitted that he too was clumsy, and a friendship was born.


First Published: Monday, August 5, 2013 - 22:22

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