Wade Michael Page, the alleged gunman in Sunday’s mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., has been tracked by the Southern Law Poverty Center since 2000 and the Anti-Defamation League since 2010 for his involvement in white-supremacist groups, most recently the Hammerskins. ADL’s director of investigative research, Mark Pitcavage, told The Daily Beast that Page has been an official member of the racist hardcore skinhead group since late 2011, a group Pitcavage called “the big dogs of the white-supremacist movement.”
Page, who was killed by police officers responding to frantic 911 calls at the gurdwara just south of Milwaukee, is the suspect in a massacre that left six Sikh worshippers between the ages of 39 and 84 dead.
Early reports of Page’s possible ties to white-supremacist groups were revealed yesterday when local law enforcement said the suspect, who was identified early this morning, had many colorful tattoos with various white power symbols. That suspicion was confirmed today when interviews and pictures of Page’s white-power bands surfaced online via Label 56, a record label Pitcavage said is part of the Hammerskin movement. Label 56’s website advertises the company as “independent music for independent minds.” The label issued a press release Monday afternoon expressing condolences for the victims and their families. “Do not take what Wade did as honorable or respectable and please do not think we are all like that,” the statement read. Label 56 has since removed all advertising and merchandise for Page’s band, End Apathy, from its website.
Page appears to have become a prospective member of Hammerskins, one of the largest and historically most violent white-power groups in the country, in early 2011, according to ADL’s tracking, said Pitcavage. (ADL tracks individuals involved in hate groups, along with the groups themselves, by creating update nodes in an online database. The organization will add any photos of individuals or groups found on social-networking groups, and any evidence that the individual or group has moved geographically. Unless explicit threats are uncovered, tracked individuals are not reported to law enforcement.)
Page became an official member of the Hammerskins by the end of 2011. “The process for joining hardcore racist skinhead groups is similar to joining biker or prison gangs,” Pitcavage said. “They have to get to know and like you before they consider the possibility and then let you become a prospect,” or a prospective member of the group. After a six- to 12-month “apprenticeship," the Hammerskins vote on prospects. Once accepted, new members, Page presumably included, get a tattoo identifying them as part of the group—a red, white, and black cogwheel with the numbers 838, which is Hammerskin code for “Hail Crossed Hammers.” Two crossed hammers are the symbol of the group.
Page’s formal introduction to the white-power movement and the Hammerskins began after he was discharged from the Army for unknown reasons after serving at Fort Bragg, N.C., from 1992 to 1998. In a 2010 interview with Label 56, (the page has been removed from Label 56’s websites, but copies remain) Page said he sold most of his belongings in 2000 and embarked on a cross-country motorcycle trip, during which he attended shows and festivals. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Daily Beast that Page’s involvement in the white-power music scene became clear at this time, and the group began to track his movements. Page also tried to purchase merchandise from the National Alliance, which was at that point, according to Potok, “by far the most important hate group in America.” Potok believes the attempted purchases included white-power music CDs.
According to the 2010 interview, Page founded his band End Apathy in 2005. The band was “initially a one-man project,” says Potok, adding that “the name of the band gives you a pretty clear indication of the motive for this slaughter,” referring to Sunday’s shooting. The group, which also included “Brent” on bass and “Ozzie” on drums, published songs on its MySpace page with names like “Self Destruct,” “Insignificant,” and “Usefull [sic] Idiots.” (It is common, Potok and Pitcavage said, for white-power music groups to release only the first names of their members. Even the location of white-power concerts is often kept a secret, Pitcavage said, and sometimes one venue will be advertised publicly as a ruse for the true, secret location.)
In the Label 56 interview, Page said the band was formed as a way of “trying to figure out what it would take to actually accomplish positive results in society and what is holding us back. A lot of what I realized at the time was that if we could figure out how to end peoples [sic] apathetic ways it would be the start towards moving forward. Of course after that it requires discipline, strict discipline to stay the course in our sick society.”
Band photographs of End Apathy on their band-mix page show Page holding a red electric guitar, wearing a shirt that reads “Definite Hate: Music With Pride,” over a Confederate flag. Swastikas and Confederate flags hang in the background. Definite Hate, another band in which Page played guitar, is also affiliated with the Hammerskins, according to Pitcavage.
The Definite Hate song “Take Action” includes these lyrics: “All the talking is done and now it’s time to walk the walk / Revolution’s in the air 9mm in my hand / You can run but you can’t hide from this master plan.” It has been reported that Page used a 9mm semi-automatic handgun in Sunday’s attacks.
Album covers from End Apathy and Definite Hate are shown on MySpace—a record called Violent Victory released by End Apathy shows a drawing of a tattooed white arm punching a shirtless black man, who has blood coming out of his mouth. The knuckles of the arm are tattooed with the letters HFFH, which Potok said stands for “Hammerskins Forever, Forever Hammerskins.” The End Apathy album is titled Self Destruct and shows a black-and-white sketch of another tattooed man lying in a gutter outside a liquor store.
Neither the ADL nor the SPLC reported Page to any law-enforcement agency during the time the two groups were tracking him. “There are tens of thousands of people like this,” Potok said, adding that his group uncovered “no record of criminality on his part.” Particularly for cases like Sunday’s shooting, which seemed to be a lone-wolf attack, Potok said, “it is almost impossible to predict who is going to go out and commit a murder.”
Potok also said if reports that Page acted alone are true, it would be typical of a white supremacist restless with the white power movement as a whole. “He talked specifically about his frustration with the [white supremacy] movement not moving forward,” Potok said. “Many people in the white supremacy movement are very impatient with their leaders and established groups. They call them the ‘meet, eat and retreat crowd.’” Next, Potok said, “someone gets sick of the group not doing anything and wakes up one morning and decides to go out and start killing people.”