When Wade Michael Page strode into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and began to kill, it was the culmination of more than a decade in the neo-Nazi movement. The best evidence suggests that Page came to his racist beliefs while serving at a North Carolina Army base that was then a hotbed of white supremacist activity — beliefs that were further honed by years on the white power music scene.
The Southern Poverty Law Center today released the latest issue of its investigative magazine Intelligence Report, and its cover story analyzes the background and ideological development of Page, who murdered six people and wounded four others last August before putting a bullet in his own head. An accompanying sidebar details the modern history of right-wing extremism in the American military, and a related editorial traces the growth of political violence aimed at Muslims.
‘Wade saw the military as a transformational time in his life,’ one expert who was also a personal acquaintance of Wade told the Intelligence Report. ‘He always said, ‘If you don’t go in the military a racist, you’re sure to leave as one.”
In testimony submitted to Durbin’s panel today, Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, urged federal vigilance in the face of what strong evidence suggests is a rising threat.
Earlier this year, the SPLC reported that the ranks of far-right extremist groups had swelled to record levels in the past three years, a period coinciding with the Obama administration. The SPLC is tracking 1,018 hate groups - a 69 percent increase since 2000. But the most explosive, recent growth has come among antigovernment “Patriot” groups, which have increased by 755% in the past three years - from 149 groups in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.
Members of both hate groups and Patriot groups have been arrested or otherwise implicated in terror plots in recent months.
Wade Michael Page, the shooter in the Aug. 5 attack in Wisconsin, was a musician who performed with a variety of white supremacist bands and also a member of the Northern Hammerskins, a faction of one of the most violent, racist skinhead gangs in the country. On Aug. 5, he walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek, and killed six Sikhs and wounded four other people, including a police officer, before shooting himself in the head.
One of the most troubling aspects of the mass murder of Sikhs near Milwaukee last week is that the man who carried it out was well known to groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitor the radical right. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, had long been a fixture on the white supremacist music scene and was associated with seriously violent skinhead groups like the Hammerskin Nation.
But the almost certain reality is that there was little that law enforcement officials or others could have done to foresee or forestall the racist attack. Page does not seem to have done anything to suggest that he was planning a slaughter, and his views, fully protected by the First Amendment, were no different from those of thousands of other angry white nationalists.
Still, the attack occurred in the context of a sharp rise in the number of hate groups and antigovernment “patriot” organizations, mostly spurred by the changing racial demographics of our country, which are personified in our first black president. Domestic, non-Muslim terrorism has been on the rise since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Given that reality, is there something more that law enforcement should be doing?
Under the Bush administration, the government focused heavily on Muslim terrorists, to the point that it was justly criticized for ignoring our own homegrown brand of terror. But that has changed in the last few years, with the F.B.I. issuing regular warnings about dangerous aspects of the radical right and law enforcement agencies regularly infiltrating groups that threaten violence.
But one deeply troubling problem remains. In 2009, a prescient report from the Department of Homeland Security warning of rising threats from various sectors of the extreme right was leaked. It immediately provoked a firestorm of criticism from the political right, which saw it as an attack on all conservatives. The criticism was utterly unjustified, but that didn’t prevent the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, from caving in and pulling it back in an act of craven political cowardice.
As The New York Times has reported, the Homeland Security team responsible for the report, charged with monitoring non-Islamic domestic terrorism, was essentially gutted after that, with most members leaving after enduring unjustified public criticism from their boss. Homeland Security now claims that the unit is fully functional, but the lead author of the 2009 report, Daryl Johnson — now a whistleblower — says that that’s not so.
This past Monday, when FBI Special Agent Teresa Carlson briefed reporters on the shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six people dead, she said law enforcement had no prior indication that the shooter, Wade Michael Page, had been dangerous. “As far as I know, no law enforcement agency had any reason to believe that he was planning or plotting or capable of such violence,” she said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which maintains an archive of published material from white supremacists and other hate groups, says that Page, who played in white supremacist rock bands and was involved with a skinhead group called the Hammerskins, began showing up in their database as early as 10 years ago. “There are hundreds of people involved in neo-Nazi groups and skinhead bands, maybe thousands, who say and write the kind of violent things that this guy did,” notes Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “The ability to figure out who is going to actually do [violence] is not easy. This stuff is protected [speech] and most people don’t commit violence.”
It’s impossible to know for sure whether law enforcement could have detected Page’s plot in advance. But former Department of Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson thinks DHS may have bypassed the opportunity. “If he was on Stormfront or any of these other forums that cater to white supremacists and was talking about violent things, we might have been able to pick up on that and refer it over to the FBI,” says Johnson. Page also met several of the criteria, such as military training, that Johnson says appeal to recruiters for extreme right-wing groups.
DHS used to monitor those forums. Working under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Johnson headed a team of analysts devoted to ferreting out domestic terrorism. Several of their referrals, he says, led to criminal cases. But conservatives went ballistic over his team’s 2009 report on the threat posed by right-wing extremists.
Concern that monitoring of “extremists” could result in spying on Americans engaged in lawful political activity is legitimate, since it’s certainly happened before. And while Johnson’s report was meant to focus on violent right-wing extremist groups—not your average Republican voter—conservative commentators still felt persecuted. They claimed Napolitano and President Barack Obama were targeting mainstream conservatives and Tea Party activists. Hot Air blogger Ed Morrisey wrote that the report was an attempt to “smear half of the country or more as kooks for criticizing the government’s handling of the economy.” Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin called it “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.”
South Milwaukee police have arrested the ex-girlfriend of the man believed to be the gunman in a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday that left seven people, including the suspect, Wade Michael Page, dead.
Misty Cook, a 31-year-old nursing student, is tentatively facing a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Associated Press reports, quoting South Milwaukee police. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that Cook has a previous felony conviction.
There was no immediate indication that Cook’s arrest is linked to the shooting Sunday in Oak Creek that also left three people injured, including a police officer.
Hate Rock 101: An expert on the sociology of hate crimes looks at the music scene behind Wade Michael Page
The recent shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin has brought sudden attention to one of the most underground music scenes in America: hate rock. Wade M. Page, the man who killed six people and wounded three others in a shooting rampage on Sunday, was the front man of a white supremacist band called End Apathy and belonged to another called Definite Hate. In a 2010 interview posted to his record label’s web site, Page—who was shot and killed by police at the scene in Wisconsin—said he became involved the white power music scene beginning in the early 2000s, and that he had occasionally filled in on guitar and bass for bands such as Celtic Warrior, Radikahl, Max Resist, Intimidation One, Aggressive Force, and Blue Eyed Devils. He also performed at hate rock fests across Europe.
Shortly after Sunday’s shooting, I spoke to the former singer of Intimidation One, one of the bands on Page’s list of collaborators. The singer said Page played bass and guitar for the band on a European tour in the late ’90s. “I played over 200 shows with that dude,” said the singer. “He was one of the most mellow guys you could know, but he would get crazy when he was drunk.”
Though many Americans first learned of the white supremacist music scene via news about Page’s shooting spree, hate rock has been around since the 1980s, providing a rallying point for white supremacy and serving as a significant vehicle to advance the neo-Nazi movement. As a sociologist, I have spent most of my career studying the skinhead subculture, and as part of that research, I’ve had plenty of occasion to observe the hate rock music scene up close.
While their music is protected by the First Amendment, hate rock bands are unwelcome at most music venues, so a typical show takes place either in someone’s basement, at a so-called “white family picnic” held on the back 40 acres of someone’s private land, or as part of a white power music festival. (Hammerfest is one of the biggest; Page played the festival at least once.)
Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls.
It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups — particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis — as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.
But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper — an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.
“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson tells Danger Room. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.” But even if that balance was reset, he concedes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the feds could have found Page before Sunday’s rampage.
The man who allegedly murdered six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee yesterday, identified in media reports as Wade Michael Page, is a former member of a racist skinhead band. The Southern Poverty Law Center has evidence that Page in 2010 was the leader of a skinhead band based in Fayetteville, N.C., called End Apathy.
In 2000, Page also attempted to purchase goods from the neo-Nazi National Alliance, then America’s most important hate group.