More details have come to light about the man who shot dead six worshipers and critically wounded three others at the Oak Creek Sikh temple in Wisconsin before he was killed by police. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, was a white, 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran with links to white supremacist groups and membership in skinhead rock bands. The Southern Poverty Law Center revealed it had been tracking Page for his views, calling him a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” In the Army, Page worked in psychological operations and was stationed at Fort Bliss and Fort Bragg. We’re joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok and by Don Walker, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covering the Sikh temple shooting. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the massacre in the Oak Creek Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday. More details have come to light about the man who shot dead six worshipers at the temple and critically wounded three others, including a police officer. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, died in the attack. He’s a white 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran. Authorities are now investigating Page’s links to white supremacist groups and his membership in skinhead rock bands. According to military sources, Page served as a soldier in the Army from 1992 to 1998, when he was discharged for patterns of misconduct. Page worked in psychological operations and was stationed at Ford Bliss and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed Page was connected to the white supremacist movement and a member of two white-power bands named End [Apathy] and Definite Hate. The Southern Poverty Law Center described Page as a, quote, “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” According to a profile in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Page used the phrase “dirt people” to describe people who were not white.
Page reportedly worked as a truck driver for five years but lost his job in 2010. Last year, he lost his home in North Carolina after it was foreclosed by Wells Fargo.
Well, Wade Michael Page had been on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center for several years. FBI Special Agent Teresa Carlson said he did not present an obvious threat.
TERESA CARLSON: We did not have an active investigation on him prior to yesterday.
REPORTER: Was the Bureau aware of Mr. Page?
TERESA CARLSON: There may be references to him in various files. Those are things that are being analyzed right now. But we had no reason to believe, and, as far as know, no law enforcement agency had any reason to believe that he was planning or plotting or capable of such violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the significance of the shooting and the identity of the gunman, we’re joined now by two guests. In Milwaukee, Don Walker is with us, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We’re also joined by Mark Potok in Montgomery, Alabama, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mark Potok, you had him on your radar, or his groups, from 2000. Talk about the organizations he was a part of.
MARK POTOK: Well, he describes, in the year 2000, essentially entering the white supremacist scene. He talks about leaving his native state of Colorado on his motorcycle with just what he could carry on that bike and essentially heading out into the world of these white-power rock-and-roll bands. He played in some very well-known bands over the years, a band called Blue Eyed Devils, another one called Intimidation One. These are really very well known on the racist scene.
And then in 2005 he went on to form his own band, which was called End Apathy. And, you know, I think that’s significant because he gave an interview a couple of years ago in which he talked about the name of that band and essentially said what he was really saying was the white supremacist scene was, you know, a lot of people who talked a lot and didn’t do anything at all. And this is a very common complaint you hear from people in that world. And, you know, I think, essentially, what it did was predict what ultimately he did, the mass murder he carried out.
AMY GOODMAN: Don Walker, in Milwaukee, you have a very comprehensive profile of his life. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of who Page was, where he was born and the trajectory his life took?
DON WALKER: Well, he was born in Colorado. His mother died at a relatively early age. His father remarried. We talked to his stepmother yesterday, and she explained that, by all accounts, he had a very normal upbringing, loved to fish, loved to hunt, doing just typical growing-up things, young kids’ kinds of things—left, though, and went through a series of years where not much was happening, quite frankly, and then, as you reported, joined the Army in 1992 and was—served until 1998. I think it’s notable that he served for a time at Fort Bragg, which during that particular time there was a great deal of white supremacist activity both on the base and off. We don’t know that he was directly connected to it, but we do know that he was certainly exposed to it.
AMY GOODMAN: He was in psychological operations, psy-ops, at both Bliss and Bragg?
DON WALKER: Yeah, I have to say that that’s a bit of a head scratcher. My understanding of that particular kind of discipline is it’s sophisticated. No one that we’ve talked to said—in fact, expressed surprise that he had been in that program. We talked to a psychiatrist who said that’s like going from the lobby to the 20th floor very quickly. So that’s somewhat of a surprise, but apparently that did not last long. He also did some other jobs in the military, including repairing missiles. So, he was exposed to a wide variety of tasks in the Army, but that work in psy-ops is still a bit of a mystery to all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, psy-ops, if you could explain what it is for people to understand?
DON WALKER: Well, it’s the use and dissemination of information for strategic purposes. We’re not necessarily learning what specifically he did there, but it’s essentially about manipulating information. One might call it propaganda, though maybe that’s a stretch. But certainly, it’s a way of conveying information to the strategic benefit of your side.
AMY GOODMAN: And how come he was forced out of the military? What happened?
DON WALKER: Well, in your opening there, you mentioned that he had been excused or let out because of misconduct. I would only point out that’s what people have told us. There is no specific paperwork or any kind of confirmation of that, but certainly people told us that—who served with him at the time, that he was a Nazi sympathizer, he was insubordinate in many cases. He was given what they called a general discharge, which is different than an honorable discharge and certainly different than a dishonorable discharge, and was told he could not re-enlist. The FBI has seized those records, so we’re not able to find out more information about that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, according to Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards, in 1998, he was given a general discharge, a cut below honorable. And then, Don Walker, talk about where he went from there, coming out of the military, what, some 14 years ago.
DON WALKER: Well, an assortment of jobs, as you reported, truck driving jobs. He lived in North Carolina. We believe he lived in Colorado and then, more recently, showed up in the Milwaukee area. We’re not quite certain why he did that, but moved to a suburb not all that far from the Sikh temple where the attacks occurred. Again, jobs, somewhat menial, third-shift factory work, that sort of thing. He had very few belongings, moved around, moved in with a girlfriend who had a child. Many of his neighbors that we spoke with yesterday talked about him averting eye contact, not really interacting with people. So, they didn’t make much of it, but certainly he was not the kind of person who was gregarious and outgoing. And then ultimately moved to a suburb called Cudahy, which is also very close to the Sikh temple, and it was there that he apparently planned his attack.
AMY GOODMAN: And his economic circumstances, Don? He was foreclosed on recently?
DON WALKER: Yes, he lost his home in January, or I should say late last year, in North Carolina, a home valued at approximately $165,000. The bank took it over. It’s vacant. No one really knows. I mean, he had enough income, we believe—
AMY GOODMAN: It was a house that lived right near—it was a house right near the airport in North Carolina, on the road to the airport?
DON WALKER: That’s correct. It was near Fayetteville’s airport. And he was earning enough money, we believe, to sustain that or pay for that home, but ultimately the circumstances led to foreclosure, and he left, and the bank took it over.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, he gets out of the military. He gets into major financial trouble. But also—let’s go back to Mark Potok. Now, you have written, Mark, that in 2000 the Southern Poverty Law Center found that Page also attempted to purchase goods from the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Tell us who they are.
MARK POTOK: The National Alliance, back then, in the year 2000, was by far the most important hate group in the United States. It was an organization of about 1,400 people, led by a former university physics professor, of all things, named William Pierce. I think some of our listeners will recall him because Pierce is the author of the race war novel called The Turner Diaries, which has often been described as the bible of the extreme right. You know, we don’t know what Page was trying to buy, but what is certainly true, and I think suggests what he did buy, is that National Alliance owned something called Resistance Records. At the time, this was the premier distributor of white-power music in the United States. So, our best guess is that he was buying music. He was buying CDs from Resistance Records. But, you know, merely the fact that he had contact with the National Alliance, you know, suggests once again that he was very much in the center of this world.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to one of Page’s songs.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk—if you would, Mark Potok, talk about his music, and talk about the messages in the music and who these groups are, like End Apathy, what is meant by that.
MARK POTOK: Well, a couple things. First of all, I couldn’t even hear the words. We tried listening to several of his tracks yesterday and were able to distinguish very little in terms of what he was actually saying, and that’s fairly typical of music in the white supremacist world. It’s kind of shouted music.
You know, this world, the musical scene is a very large underworld that the public basically knows nothing about. And that is the world he operated in. The music is terribly important to the white supremacist scene in a couple of ways. First of all, it’s the number one earner. These groups have very few ways of bringing money in and are typically, essentially, destitute. The National Alliance, back in the year 2000, was bringing in $600,000, $700,000 a year through its music, which is extraordinary. The other aspect of the music is that it has turned out to be the most effective recruiting tool for bringing young people into the movement. You know, people will start listening to this music, typically on the internet, you know, and when they’re 16, 17 years old, the music, they listen to it hundreds and hundreds of times, and essentially the message kind of seeps into their brain. At that point, at least some percentage of those kids walk out of their parents’ houses and walk into a real skinhead concert, and that is typically where we see real recruitment happen.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you find out, Mark, that someone is buying products from, say, the National Alliance? And what does it mean to say that you track these groups? I mean, do you work with law enforcement?
MARK POTOK: Well, we don’t work with law enforcement in the sense of exchanging a great deal of information. We do train law enforcement officials, maybe six or seven, eight thousand people a year, in domestic terrorism. We give presentations in very particular things. For instance, we might go to the Utah Gang Investigator’s group and give a presentation about groups in Utah—that kind of thing.
I mean, what it means that we track these groups is we essentially do a whole lot open-source kind of data collection. So that ranges from the very simple—collecting newspaper articles, that sort of thing, monitoring the internet—to the somewhat more complicated—getting into email groups, sometimes private groups, listening to short-wave radio broadcasts. And, of course, we act like any investigative newspaper would, in the sense that, you know, very typically, the leader of a group will start sleeping with someone other than his girlfriend, and the next thing you know, the girlfriend angrily is coming to us with all kinds of information. So there are a whole lot of different kinds of streams that we bring together as we monitor these groups. And sometimes we’ll even come across business records or perhaps they’ll be provided to us by someone leaving the movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what is Label 56? They issued a statement yesterday saying, “We have worked hard over the years to promote a positive image and have posted many articles encouraging people to take a positive path in life.”
MARK POTOK: Well, let me say, briefly, that’s utter hogwash. You know, it’s a straight-ahead neo-Nazi website. They did put up that statement. They did yesterday take down pages, materials, the interview with Page that we found very early yesterday. But the fact is that the site is still thick with all kinds of white supremacist material. Label 56, we believe, the 56 stands for EF, the sixth—the fifth, rather, and sixth letter of the alphabet. EF, we have determined, stands for “Eastern Front.” And the idea, essentially, was that the racist skinhead movement needed to move more heavily into the eastern part of the United States. It had been quite heavily concentrated in the Midwest and the West Coast. So, beyond that, I can’t really say. It’s a relatively small label, certainly compared to groups like Resistance Records.
AMY GOODMAN: They issued also a statement, Label 56, End Apathy’s label, that said, “Please don’t take what Wade did as honorable or respectable and please do not think we are all like that.” What do you think needs to be done, Mark? You’ve been following white supremacist hate groups for decades. One person from one of these groups was interviewed and, interestingly, said he was looking for Page and started to look up articles—this is before the massacre—because he thought this is where he could be going. And interestingly, the guy who was interviewed was horrified by this, though he was a part of these groups.
MARK POTOK: Well, I mean, I’ve got to say, certainly, we saw nothing that particularly distinguished Page from thousands of other people who live in the same world that he did. So, you know, I don’t really find any fault with law enforcement. I just don’t see how this could have been predicted in any real sense by law enforcement officials. I suppose it’s different if you were close to the guy and really, you know, talked to him on a regular basis.
All that said, what the reporter who’s on with us said, I think, is very important, the idea that he was in the military and specifically at Fort Bragg at a time when there was a real scandal about neo-Nazis in Fort Bragg, playing this music, openly indoctrinating other soldiers. There was a black couple, a man and a woman, who were murdered right outside Fort Bragg by neo-Nazi skinheads who in fact were in the military. So, you know, we’ve spent a lot of time over the last three or four years doing investigative work and then lobbying the Pentagon to essentially impose a zero-tolerance rule on extremists in the military. What was going on a few years ago in 2006, specifically, when we wrote a very big investigative piece, was they were allowing the recruiting of these people—not as policy, but as a factual matter, simply because they were having real difficulties meeting quotas, recruitment quotas for Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration, first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, very much resisted taking this change initially, but finally, in response to our stories and lobbying and letters to the Department of Homeland Security and so on, in fact the Pentagon did change the rules and impose a zero-tolerance policy in late 2009. So, the hope is, is that at least this guy would have been found and probably kicked out of the military earlier. I’m not sure that would have prevented anything in terms of this attack, but, you know, I think it’s important to try and keep these people out of our military, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Page had a 14-word tattoo: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” I want to turn to a clip from a short documentary, White Power USA, which was made by independent filmmakers Rick Rowley and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films. It aired on Al Jazeera English. This clip features white supremacist musicians.
MUSICIAN: We already have a president who’s out to destroy us and what we stand for. I did not elect a communist to run this country. This next one is called “Soon It Will Be Time,” and if we do not take care of it, then we will lose our right to be.
RICK ROWLEY: In this shed in the middle of the Arizona desert, the White Knights of America are hosting a festival of white supremacist skinhead culture. Here and across the country, white power groups say they are energized and growing. For them, Obama’s election and the economic meltdown are wake-up calls for white America and catalysts for the coming race war. They say white pride is their only defense in an insecure and changing world.
CHARLES GILBERT DEMAR III: But America is in crisis. I’m petrified whether I’m working the next day or not. And it’s—this is all we got. This is the last thing we got to stand on, man.
RICK ROWLEY: Charles is the lead singer for Stormtroop 16, one of the most popular bands on the Aryan skinhead circuit. He says they give voice to a silent majority that is afraid to say what it really feels about race.
CHARLES GILBERT DEMAR III: This country and this entire world is full of closet racists who lack the courage to even say they’re even proud to be white, because they are sheep, and they are being led to the slaughter, man.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from White Power USA, Jacquie Soohen and Rick Rowley’s film. Mark Potok, you could comment on that, but also, what has happened since President Obama came into office? Have these white power groups proliferated? Have they become more powerful? Have they been making more threats?
MARK POTOK: What has happened is an absolutely explosive growth of groups on the radical right, in general. As a matter of fact, we’ve never seen this kind of growth. Not of—the white supremacist groups have grown, them not so spectacularly, but other kinds of groups, what we used to call militias back in the 1990s, have grown at an absolutely unbelievable pace, from 149 of these groups in 2008 to 1,274 last year, our last count.
As the voice-over in the documentary you just played suggested, the reasons really are the changing racial demographics of this country as represented in the person of Barack Obama, and of course the economy. These people all realize that the Census Bureau has predicted that white people in the United States will lose their majority by about the year 2050. They’ll fall under 50 percent of the population. And they are essentially having meltdowns. You know, they’re at the end of their rope. The world, they feel, is closing in around them. And the way they talk about the situation right now is a genocide is being carried out against white people in this country, and generally in the world. Many of the groups talk about whites as the most endangered species on the planet, of all things. So, we see this quite commonly, this sense that they are sinking, this is the last possible moment, the country’s going down, and so on and so forth. So, you know, the bottom line is, we’re living in a very scary time, a very scary moment.
You know, I have to say, this attack—certainly we knew nothing about the particulars of this attack before it happened, but I don’t think it was much of a surprise to many who do the kind of work we do. This is our Anders Breivik, Anders Breivik, of course, being the man who murdered 77 Norwegians last July, July of 2011, because he thought they were enabling Muslim immigration into Norway. So, this looks very similar. Of course, we’ve now seen a mosque burn down. And there’s an immense amount of anti-Muslim propaganda in the political mainstream, as well as among fringe groups like this. So, sad to say, I just don’t think this attack was all that surprising.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Mark Potok, director of Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. And I’d like to ask Don Walker to stay with us after break to find out about the scene yesterday in the Sikh community in Milwaukee that you have been covering, Don Walker writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.