On July 28, Wade Michael Page walked into the Shooters Shop in Wisconsin to buy a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and ammunition. Eight days later, the 40-year-old military veteran arrived at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek and began shooting at members of the congregation who had gathered to prepare a meal. During the shooting, six members of the Sikh community, one police officer and the attacker were killed.
Within hours of the shootings, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed that Page was a known white supremacist. He had links to networks including the Hammerskin Nation and was involved in an underground music scene often referred to as “white power music” or “hate rock.”
Influenced strongly by earlier bands in England, such as Skrewdriver, white power music is seen by those who study extremism as one of the most important recruitment tools for the modern far right. Page’s involvement appears to have been deep: In an interview with online music magazine Label56.com in 2005, he claimed to have sold all of his possessions so that he could travel around the country attending white power festivals, such as Hammerfest. The next year, he formed a band called End Apathy, recruiting bandmates from other groups, such as Definite Hate and 13 Knots.
Asked in 2005 to elaborate on the meaning of the band’s lyrics, Page replied: “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.”
Page’s body also contained references to white supremacism.
A tattoo of the number “14” was a direct reference to the so-called “14 words” that occupy a central role in neo-Nazi vocabulary: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
This passage, a reference to a section of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, was popularized by David Lane, a member of white supremacist terror group The Order. Another tattoo of the Odin or Celtic cross represents one of the most popular symbols among neo-Nazis, seen as an international symbol for “white pride.”
Those who had been close to Page confirmed his ideological affinity to the extreme right. Reflecting a wider belief within the movement, an old army friend of Page claimed that as far back as the 1990s he had talked about “racial holy war,” and would rant “about mostly any non-white person.”
As with the aftermath of the attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway, it was not long until sympathizers surfaced online.
“Take your dead and go back to India and dump their ashes in the Ganges, Sikhs,” one neo-Nazi wrote.
Others praised their “brother:” “All I feel is loss and sympathy for a brother that was overwhelmed by pain and frustration. I could [sic] care less though for those injured and wounded other than Wade.”
Another warned of future attacks: “There are thousands of other angry White men like Page, the vast majority of them unknown ... When will they, like Page, reach their breaking point...?”
The threat of violence from disgruntled right-wing extremists is not lost on the security services, or analysts. In 2009, US Department of Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson authored a report that explicitly warned of the growing threat of far-right violence. Pointing to the economic downturn, the election of US President Barack Obama and evidence that some military veterans were struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, the report was one of the first to flag the growing importance of the extreme right — a movement that was routinely overlooked after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Few, however, took the warning seriously. Rather, Republicans and US right-wing commentators openly criticized the report. Some saw it as an attempt to discredit the insurgent and right-wing Tea Party movement, while many viewed it as an unfair attack on military veterans. Others said it focused unnecessarily on domestic, rather than foreign, manifestations of terrorism.