A man accused of vandalizing a Sikh temple in Washington state last week, under the mistaken belief that he was inside of an Islamic mosque, faces hate crime charges for the act. Authorities in Spokane Valley, Washington, said they found 44-year-old suspect Jeffrey C. Pittman standing naked and holding a ceremonial sword inside the Sikh Temple of Spokane last Thursday.
Although sheriff’s deputies believe the Pittman may have been suffering a mental health crisis, the suspect articulated his belief that members of the temple were connected to the Islamic State, the terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria, which has also claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks in Paris last December. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted Monday how Pittman’s act was the latest in a string of anti-Muslim attacks mistakenly directed at Indian Sikhs.
Pittman was booked in jail last week on charges of armed burglary, malicious mischief and malicious harassment based on religious discrimination, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reported. Sikh Temple of Spokane priest Gurjeet Singh Aujla said the temple's holy book was defaced and pages were ripped. The temple’s altar and bedding used to allow gurus to rest were also vandalized, resulting in $30,000 in damage, Aujla said.
Sikhism, which originated in India, has about 20 million adherents worldwide. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Sikhs and Muslims in the US and Europe have faced a disproportionate amount of bigotry and hate crimes. The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights group in the U.S., noted in a statement about the Spokane Valley incident that hate crimes against the community have risen by an estimated 300 percent since last December.
“In the wake of the San Bernardino attacks and the increased charged presidential political rhetoric aimed at minority communities across America, the Sikh American community has seen a sizeable uptick in cases of hate crimes and backlash over the past four months,” the group stated, according to a report by India West.