A Sikh man found forgiveness with help from a former white supremacist

Pardeep Kaleka's father was brutally killed in a race-based shooting. Arno Michaelis is a former neo-nazi who founded the white supremacist group of the shooter. How did they become friends — by dealing with their rage.
After the sudden death of his father in the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Pardeep Kaleka sought answers in an unlikely place — from former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis. An unlikely friendship blossomed. (Jayrol San Jose)

On Aug. 15, 2012, a man armed with a pistol opened fire on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The gunman, an affiliated white supremacist named Wade Michael Page, killed six attendees including temple president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, before taking his own life.

Kaleka's son, Pardeep Kaleka, was filled with sorrow and anger, but he sought answers in an unlikely place — from former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis.

An unlikely friendship

"I felt this emptiness of not knowing exactly what drove the shooter that day," said Kaleka. 

"I wanted to reach out to Arno to find out the why so we can do the what."

Arno Michaelis is now a peace activist, but he spent much of his late teens and early 20s in the white supremacist movement and co-founded the Hammerskins Nation, a notoriously violent neo-Nazi gang, of which the Sikh Temple shooter was a member.

"I didn't know what to say, anything I could think of just didn't sound like enough," Michaelis said, reflecting his first meeting with Kaleka.

But the two became good friends and they teamed up to found Serve 2 Unite — an organization that seeks to combat hate with a message of unity and peace.

Michaelis and Kaleka also wrote the book, The Gift of our Wounds, a joint autobiography detailing the pair's pasts, the shooting, and its aftermath.  

The Gift of our Wounds is a joint biography detailing the pair’s pasts, the shooting, and the aftermath. (Jayrol San Jose)

Relentless optimism

Immediately after the loss of his father, Kaleka struggled with the rage he felt.

"I just remember having to roll up my windows in the car… just allowing myself to scream, and be angry, and just have complete rage," said Kaleka.

But Kaleka turned this anger and pain into motivation to help others experiencing their own hardships, eventually becoming a trauma counsellor.

"Me and Arno say quite a bit, we can feel those feelings, but we cannot stay in those feelings. We cannot emote around them so much so that we become dysfunctional," said Kaleka.

Kaleka's faith played a big role in his trajectory after the shooting, and he emphasizes the Sikh principle of Chardi Kala, which means relentless optimism.

For Kaleka, Chardi Kala helped transform the pain and anger he felt after the attack.

"It is my pain that gives me the most empathy… being relentlessly optimistic means that we are feeling all those feelings, and we are engaging in our own pain to be able to engage in somebody else's."

Action out of anger

Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis tattooed the date of the Sikh Temple shooting on the palms of their left hands. (Skully's Jedi Tattoo)

Michaelis' struggle with anger has been more internal. Even years after leaving the white power movement, the guilt from his past still follows him.  

"I'll always be suffering to one degree or another because of the harm that I've caused,"said Michaelis. "It damages you spiritually when you commit violence, and that's something that I'll be working through for the rest of my life".

But like Kaleka, Michaelis has found ways to work through his anger through his Buddhist practice.

"You just have to cradle the voice with loving kindness," said Michaelis. 

"We're going to feel this, then we're going to move on because we have work to do. We have to help other people, and I can't help other people if I'm busy hating myself."

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