Wisconsin Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page was open about his neo-Nazi views when he served in the U.S. military from 1992 to 1998. We speak to journalist Matt Kennard, who details the rise of the far-right radicals in the armed forces in his forthcoming book, "Irregular Army: How the U.S. Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror," out next month. "Every base has its problem with white supremacists, because they’re allowed to operate freely," Kennard says. "This is not a problem that’s specific to certain bases ... It’s all over the United States. It was all over Iraq, and it was all over Afghanistan." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the killings at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Our guest is Pete Simi. He is a University of Nebraska at Omaha criminology professor, co-author with Robert Futrell of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of [Hate], joining us from Omaha, Nebraska.
We’re also joined by journalist Matt Kennard, author of the forthcoming book, Irregular Army: How the U.S. Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror. Matt is joining us from Mexico City.
Matt, you have been following white supremacists in the military for some time. Can you talk about the reaction to the killings in Wisconsin and the more you hear about the profile of Wade Michael Page?
MATT KENNARD: Well, the interesting thing about Page is, you quoted that Stars and Stripes article earlier, which said he was completely open about his white supremacist and neo-Nazi inclinations in the 1990s. And it’s important to remember that during the 1990s, this was a period after the Burmeister trial, which you mentioned, and also the bombings in Oklahoma, which were carried out by Timothy McVeigh, another veteran of the first Gulf War, who was decorated with a Bronze Star, as well. So, military at that—in the mid-’90s was embarrassed by the fact that these firstly an active-duty and a veteran had committed murder, indiscriminate murder. So they were meant to be—the narrative is that they were cracking down at this point.
Now, Page’s example shows that this wasn’t really the case. What is certain is that during the war on terror, even the thin regulations that did exist were completely jettisoned. I mean, I spent two or three years talking to veterans, extremist veterans, much like Page, and far-right leaders, who basically said that there was an open-door policy during the war on terror. You could enter with swastikas tattooed on you, with S.S. bolts, with basically—basically, the military couldn’t slow down, because they had two occupations to populate and not enough soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the military’s regulation of enlisted neo-Nazis and white supremacists. You write about how the Army Command Policy describes the rules for commanders to enforce. It says, quote, "Participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army personnel is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service." Matt Kennard, can you talk about the Army’s regulations?
MATT KENNARD: Well, the Army’s regulations, and in fact the military, the whole of the military, every branch, has been ambiguous on purpose, so that at times of chronic troop needs, like the war on terror, they can basically allow these people to stay in. I mean, the regulations are basically reactive. The U.S. military, after a tragedy like in Oak Creek or the Burmeister case, they are embarrassed by the media reaction and the public, who basically ask, "Why is our taxpayer money paying to arm and train these right-wing extremists?" So the Army is on the back foot. Then they say, "Oh, we’ve tightened the regulation." But in reality, there’s nothing proactive about it. And, I mean, even the regulations that are in place, which obviously are thin, were basically completely jettisoned during the war on terror. So, the quote you used about right-wing extremism being inconsistent with military service, I mean, it was completely consistent with military service during the war on terror. In fact, I heard from extremist veterans themselves that their command would send them on the hardest missions, because obviously neo-Nazis—and gang members, as well, which was a big problem, which is worth mentioning—they’re seen more as warlike.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk more about this. I mean, white supremacists in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and, unfortunately, as we have seen this past weekend, next to a Sikh temple.
MATT KENNARD: Yeah. Well, that’s a good point that hasn’t been raised enough, is, what does it mean—what did it mean for the occupied populations to have this army that was riven with white supremacists, who saw the people they were occupying as subhuman, as well as gang—violent gang members? I mean, gangs is also a massive problem, which we don’t hear about as much about, because often the violence committed in the United States is inter-gang violence, so it doesn’t affect the public. But, I mean, there’s been spates of murders between gangs involving veterans and active-duty personnel. But for the populations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was—we will never know what kind of atrocities were carried out, Wisconsin-style, but I’m sure they happened. I mean, there’s a few clues as to what these soldiers were doing over there. One neo-Nazi veteran called Kenneth Eastridge is now serving a 10-year sentence for his part in a murder in Colorado Springs, and he was serving in Iraq with neo-Nazi S.S. bolts tattooed on his arm.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a brief clip of Wade Michael Page’s stepmother, Laura Page. She spoke to ABC News about how the military influenced her stepson.
LAURA PAGE: I don’t know if the military was good for him. I don’t know. My heart’s broken for the people that are—that were killed and their families. I can’t imagine what would have gone through his mind for him to do something like this.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Laura Page, the stepmother of Wade Michael Page. Professor Simi, I wanted to bring you back into this discussion as you listen to Matt Kennard. Tattoos—the reports from the Sikhs on the ground in Oak Creek at the temple say he was wearing a 9/11 tattoo. What about his tattoos, and what were the messages in them?
PETE SIMI: Well, on his left shoulder, he had a tattoo that has the number 14. And that is a very prominent kind of code for what’s called the 14 words, which was penned by a now-deceased right-wing terrorist by the name of David Lane, who was active in the 1980s, was part of a underground terrorist cell called the Silent Brotherhood. Lane penned this while in prison, the 14 words, which is something to the effect of securing the existence for a future of our race and the future for white children. And this is widely used throughout the movement. People have tattoos with "14," T-shirts with "14." They’ll sign emails and—with "14." So, this was one of Page’s tattoos.
He had a German soldier tattoo on one of his calves and a Celtic cross, which is also a prominent symbol used by white supremacists as a tattoo, as well as an insignia on other things, T-shirts and so forth. So, the more recent photos that I’ve seen of him, he was more heavily tattooed than when I—during the years that I knew him. He was, you know, starting to get tattooed, and he had several at the point that—you know, during the years that I knew him. But this is a very common thing that as a person develops a so-called résumé in the movement, they mark their body with this. It’s a way of showing their commitment. And so, they—you tend to get more and more tattoos the longer you’re involved in these types of groups, to the point where some individuals are actually what’s called sleeved, which is they have tattoos all the way down to their wrists. And in some little bit more unusual cases, people will get tattoos all over their faces, all over their heads, as a way to show how committed they are to the white supremacy movement.
AMY GOODMAN: The man you’re talking about who wrote the—the neo-Nazi who wrote the 14 words, David Lane, together with Bruce Pierce, were convicted for their involvement with the killing of the Jewish talk show host Alan Berg.
PETE SIMI: Correct. And, you know, that’s a good example of the type of terrorism that has occurred among the white supremacy movement. And, you know, all too often, when we think about terrorism, we don’t necessarily associate it with right-wing extremists, especially since 9/11. Unfortunately, terrorism has almost become synonymous with violent, radical jihadis, and too often people ignore the incidents of terrorism that have occurred at the hands of white supremacists.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Kennard, as you listen to Professor Simi, who knew Page, the shooter, who then killed himself, according to authorities, on Sunday—now, by the way, there’s concern that the police officer who shot Page, though apparently didn’t kill him, will be targeted by white supremacist groups, and there’s questions, will he have to move out of town? His house is being protected by police. But, Matt Kennard, as you listen to this and also hear to his stepmother talking about her concern about his time in the military, and also the fact that he was in, though not clear doing what, in psy-ops, psychological operations, at Fort Bragg and, before that, at Fort Bliss, your thoughts?
MATT KENNARD: Sorry, I didn’t hear the question.
AMY GOODMAN: Just the question of Page’s involvement in psychological operations, if this is the case—these are the reports—at both Fort Bliss and then at Fort Bragg. And, Matt, is Fort Bragg a center of this white supremacist activity in the military?
MATT KENNARD: Yeah, I mean, Fort Bragg was where Burmeister was based. It’s where Page was based. But, I mean, this is—
AMY GOODMAN: And again, Burmeister, who killed the black couple in 1995.
MATT KENNARD: This is across the United States. Every base has its problem with white supremacists, because they’re allowed to operate freely. It’s the natural reaction to a military brass which is just not concerned about this issue unless they’re presented with a national scandal like the Oak Creek massacre. And, I mean, Page is not alone. This is what must be emphasized. During my investigations, I went down to Tampa, Florida, to interview a neo-Nazi veteran of Iraq called Forrest Fogarty. And his résumé reads basically exactly the same as Page. He’s the lead singer of a neo-Nazi rock band. He’s a veteran. He’s also a member of the Hammerskin Nation, which is the most violent skinhead group in the country, much like Page. And, I mean, what he told me about his experience in Iraq was instructive. He said, basically, "The command knew about my radicalism. Of course they knew. Look at my—they can see my tattoos." Fogarty was also—is also covered in tattoos. So, this is not a problem that’s specific to certain bases, although Fort Bragg has a very serious problem. It’s all over—all over the United States. And it’s all—it was all over Iraq, and it was all over Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt—
MATT KENNARD: And a point that must be made, too, is gangs is another huge issue, especially along in—at the bases along the border with Mexico, because they’re involved in trafficking drugs and trafficking weapons, etc. And this is an issue, as well, which has got wide coverage. I mean, the Southern Poverty Law Center did important work in 2006 on this. Other groups have been doing it, active-duty personnel. But every time this issue has been raised, the U.S. military has targeted the person raising it. So, soldiers who have said, "Look, my unit is riven with white supremacists or gang members," the military has demoted them, has kicked them out of the military. I mean, I came across countless examples of that. So, this is not something that the military missed by accident. This is something that the military has actively ignored and persecuted the people that are raising the issue. In fact, I think, later on, you’re going to have Daryl Johnson on, who is the DHS analyst who authored the report about the threat of far-right extremism. And he was targeted by the DHS as soon as that report came out, and right-wing politicians, for raising the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about the role of music before we go to Daryl Johnson. Very important to hear about the report, not just people in the military, but people in civilian life at the Department of Homeland Security, who are prevented from getting this information out. But a clip of—but I want to go to a clip of the former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink, speaking on Hardball with Chris Matthews Tuesday about the importance of music in the neo-Nazi movement.
FRANK MEEINK: Driving in a car with a bunch of skinheads, listening to music about kicking people’s heads in, you know, finding people of other races to destroy, and you’re sitting in with a car with a bunch of your friends looking for victims—it really keeps the drum beating: it’s time for action.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: So you think that music drives bad behavior, racist behavior, physically?
FRANK MEEINK: It physically helped us. And also, the racist music is what keeps the movement young. If it wasn’t for the music that keeps getting people into this, you know, you would have that old image of the Klan sitting on the front porch with a shotgun. The music keeps the newcomers involved. It keeps them wanting to be part of this. It keeps them, again, wanting to be—to portray what’s going on in the music. The music is—I mean, I can’t stress how much the music is to that movement.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Frank Meeink, a former neo-Nazi, speaking on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Professor Pete Simi, your response? How important was this music world to Wade Page?
PETE SIMI: At the time I knew him, I mean, that’s—as I mentioned before, that’s why he relocated to Southern California. What he told me was that when he—he met members of the first band that he was in, Youngland, at a music show in—would have been around summer of 2000 in Georgia at one of these white power music events, and they really clicked. And that’s what led him ultimately to relocate to Southern California and then ultimately become a member of their band. And what he told me was that changed his life. You know, he said that, "Once I met them, it changed my life. I instantly had a bunch of new bros," meaning, you know, brothers. And so, at the time I had met him, he felt like his involvement in the music scene really gave him a lot of purpose in terms of how he could be involved and how he could contribute to the larger white supremacist movement. And, in fact, you know, that’s what the music scene does for a lot of folks, is it provides a way for them to be involved in the larger movement, whether it’s as musicians or as people who really enjoy the music and like going to the shows and can tap in, you know, to the movement through their involvement in the music scene. It’s a powerful mechanism for, you know, as Frank says, for really keeping the movement going.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Simi, could you have seen anything like this or predicted any kind of violent outburst like this? Were you concerned about this as you spoke to Wade Michael Page? Now they’ve arrested [his] girlfriend, who, it turns out, was a waitress in a restaurant, in a coffee shop, what, a block from the Sikh temple where Page gunned down six people, six Sikh worshipers.
PETE SIMI: Well, on the one hand, it’s not surprising when somebody involved in these types of groups does something in terms of what happened in Wisconsin, so, you know, we shouldn’t really be surprised when somebody who’s involved in these types of groups, with these types of beliefs, with the things that are advocated, with the centrality of guns and just violence, more broadly, in terms of the role it plays in this movement, based on their beliefs, you know, in terms of the—you know, just the very fact that they believe that the white race is on the verge of extinction, and therefore, you know, whites have a right, in fact, or, you know, really whites should stand up and defend themselves. So, that part is not surprising.
But it was—when I realized that it was Page, I was shocked. It’s not something that, at the time I was spending with him, that I saw him as, you know, particularly threatening above and beyond other, you know, members of these types of groups. You know, as a rule of thumb, you would think that members of these types of groups, in general, pose a certain level of threat. And I didn’t see him as especially threatening, more so than other individuals involved in these types of groups.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is even more frightening. Pete Simi, I want to thank you very much for being with us, from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, criminology professor, co-author, with Robert Futrell, of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate, joining us from Omaha. Also, Matt Kennard, thank you so much for joining us, author of the forthcoming book, Irregular Army: How the U.S. Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by Daryl Johnson. He was the author of the report from the Department of Homeland Security about right-wing resurgence. In fact, he has written a book, Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat is Being Ignored. And we’ll find out what happened to this report. Stay with us.