Police are investigating the white-power ties of the former US soldier who gunned down six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, while the close-knit Indian-American community mourned its dead.
Wade Michael Page, 40, burst into the temple with a 9mm handgun and several magazines of ammunition — all of which had been purchased legally — and opened fire on worshippers attending a Sunday service, authorities said.
Special Agent Teresa Carlson, head of the FBI’s Milwaukee office, said on Monday the suspect — killed at the scene during a shootout with police — was now the subject of a “domestic terrorism” probe.
“We are looking at ties to white supremacist groups,” she said, adding that the FBI did not have an active file on Page before the incident.
“No law enforcement agency had any reason to believe he was plotting anything,” she said.
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, branded Page a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band” and the SITE Intelligence Group said he was an active skinhead.
A former army buddy, Christopher Robillard, told CNN that Page had spoken of “racial holy war, like he wanted it to come,” but added he never thought the suspected gunman would act on it.
Page was a member of the Hammerskins Nation, a group that describes itself on its Web site as a “leaderless group of men and women who have adopted the White Power Skinhead Lifestyle,” SITE said in a report.
Page “engaged in extensive online activity” and maintained user accounts on “some of the most prominent white supremacist forums,” SITE said, adding that he issued messages “urging active resistance ‘regardless of the outcome.’”
The Southern Poverty Law Center said the ex-soldier had recently been the leader of the three-man hardcore punk band End Apathy.
Band members were shown performing in front of extremist flags, including one bearing a swastika.
Page served as a US military “psychological operations specialist” between April 1992 and October 1998.
US President Barack Obama said “soul searching” was needed on how to reduce violence in the US after the killings, which came less than three weeks after the movie-theater shooting in Colorado that left 12 dead and dozens wounded.
The new attack may put some pressure on Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney to address gun control before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
The Indian-American community held a candlelight vigil late on Monday at a temple not far from the scene of Sunday’s carnage.
The dead were identified as Paramjit Kaur, a 41-year-old woman, Sita Singh, 41, Ranjit Singh, 49, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, Prakash Singh, 39, and Suveg Singh, 84, all men. Singh is a common surname in the Sikh community.
Three middle-aged men, including a member of a police unit, were reported to be in critical condition with gunshot wounds.
The Washington-based Sikh Coalition said there had been “thousands” of incidents of hate crimes, discrimination and profiling against Sikhs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, attributing blame to anti-Muslim sentiment.
Religious tradition demands that Sikhs wear turbans to cover their uncut hair and sport long beards, which often leads them to be mistaken for Muslims in the US.
“I’m an American. I literally feel insecure living in the country I grew up in,” said another mourner, 27-year-old Gagan Khurana.