Experts: Alleged temple gunman Wade Michael Page led neo-Nazi band, had deep extremist ties

NBC News/August 6, 2012

The gunman who allegedly attacked a Sikh temple in southern Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding four, was a "white supremacist skinhead" and "frustrated neo-Nazi" who led a white power punk and metal band, groups that track extremism said Monday.

Wade Michael Page, 40, was the founder of End Apathy, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a blog post about Page, Potok cited an April 2010 interview that the alleged gunman gave to the "Uprise Direct" music website about the band's work.

Page said his band, which formed in 2005, "was based on trying to figure out what it would take to actually accomplish positive results in society and what is holding us back. A lot of what I realized at the time was that if we could figure out how to end people's apathetic ways it would be the start towards moving forward. Of course after that it requires discipline, strict discipline to stay the course in our sick society.

"So, in a sense it was view of psychology and sociology. But I didn't want to just point the finger at what other people should do, but also I was willing to point out some of my faults on how I was holding myself back. And that is how I wrote the song 'Self Destruct,'' he said.

Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said Page was a mem­ber of the Ham­mer­skins, "one of the oldest and largest hardcore racist skinhead groups," and iden­ti­fied him­self as a North­ern Ham­mer­skin, part of the group's upper Mid­west branch.

End Apa­thy had been a fea­tured band in recent years at many Hammerskin-organized white power music con­certs, such as the August 2010 "Meet & Greet BBQ & Bands" in North Car­olina, the Ham­mer­skins' St. Patty's Day Show in March 2011 in Orlando, Fla., and Ham­mer­fest 2011 last Octo­ber in Orlando, Pitcavage noted in a blog post, in which he described Page as a "white supremacist skinhead."

"We had identified Page several years ago as someone who was prominent in the white-power music scene," he told NBC News. He said Page also used a pseudonym, "Jack Boot," an apparent reference to the high military boots worn by members of dictatorial regimes such as Nazi Germany.

The white-power music scene is one of the main things that the Hammerskins do in the United States and is a "fairly important part of the white supremacist subculture" in the country, said Pitcavage. Because of Page's role in that music scene, he had already become linked with the Hammerskins through his involvement in bands tied to the group and his performances at their events.

Page became a "fully patched" member of the Hammerskins by late 2011 after going through an apprenticeship period. He had one of their tattoos on his right arm -- a sort of cogwheel with the numbers 838 inside it (838 is an alpha-numeric code that means "hail crossed hammers," a reference to their logo of two-crossed hammers that was taken from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"), Pitcavage said. The tattoo also had the group's colors of red, black and yellow.

A photo of Page also showed that he had a Celtic Cross tattoo with the number 14 in it, which is a "major white supremacist symbol," Pitcavage said.

The Hammerskins emerged in Texas in the mid-to-late 1980s and spread across the country. They are loosely organized, not hierarchical and tend to group themselves regionally.

"It has had a strong association with violence over the past several decades," Pitcavage said, noting that it was not surprising that the alleged gunman "was a white supremacist because white supremacist shooting sprees tend to be directed at minorities."

Page said in the "Uprise" interview that his music was a mix of '80s punk, metal and Oi!, a subgenre of punk.

"The topics vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to," he said in the interview.

Page was a "frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band," wrote Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "In 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center has found that Page also attempted to purchase goods from the neo-Nazi National Alliance, then America's most important hate group."

The FBI was "looking at ties to white supremacist groups" in the case, said Teresa Carlson, FBI special agent in charge in Milwaukee. They were also investigating the attack as possible domestic terrorism, which she noted meant use of force or violence for social or political gain. The FBI did not have an active investigation on Page before Sunday.

Page, an Army veteran who served from 1992 to 1998 but was never deployed, said in the "Uprise" interview that he was from Colorado and that in 2000 he "wanted to basically start over."

"So, I sold everything I owned except for my motorcycle and what I could fit into a backpack and went on cross country trip visiting friends and attending festivals and shows. I went to the Hammerfest 2000 in Georgia, over to North Carolina, up to Ohio, down to West Virginia, and out to California… ."

Since 2009, the United States has been in the middle of a "huge resurgence" of right-wing extremism largely split into two spheres: an anti-government extremist one, such as the militia movement, and white supremacists, Pitcavage said. The number of militia groups has quintupled in the past three years and there have been many arrests of white supremacists over the same time for acts of violence, he said.

The election of a non-white president and the struggling economy were the triggers, Pitcavage said.

"It's just a huge number of incidents from the extreme right since 2009. It's the biggest resurgence of right-wing extremist activity since the mid-1990s and the Oklahoma City bombing (in 1995), and it's causing problems all around the country," he added.

On End Apathy's Myspace page, the group listed its location as Nashville, N.C., and said they had finished recording for an upcoming release on Label 56, which the ADL described as a Maryland-based company that distributes racist skinhead music, videos and merchandise. The last login for the page was dated Feb. 21, 2012.

Label 56 issued a statement Monday saying that all images and products related to the group had been removed from their website.

"We do not wish to profit from this tragedy financially or with publicity," said the label. "In closing please do not take what Wade did as honorable or respectable and please do not think we are all like that."

Label 56 officials did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.

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