An undated picture taken from myspace.com shows Wade Michael Page performing for the white power music group End Apathy. (Reuters)
Washington, Aug. 8: The gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin which took six lives and drew both the US President and his Republican challenger into its aftermath is prompting a closer look here into the secret terrain of tattoo codes which white supremacists use as a badge of their sinister underground presence and into the dark world of hate music which is fuelling their movement.
Because Sunday’s murders near Milwaukee are the third in recent times to touch America’s conscience and attract condemnation at the highest levels here, the FBI is diligently probing the gunman, Wade Michael Page, for links to groups that local law enforcement in many states had hitherto hoped to consign to non-existence by simply ignoring them.
If the investigation of the Oak Creek shooting enlarges into a probe of the white supremacist movement, Sunday’s tragedy may turn out to be for hate crimes what the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 became for US domestic terrorism.
On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh, another Army veteran, like Page, detonated a truck bomb at the federal government complex in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring more than 800 others.
McVeigh, unlike the gurudwara gunman, was not a racist and his truck bombing against what he considered to be a tyrannical US federal government, was a turning point in alerting agencies like the FBI to the danger of domestic white American terrorism.
Their different motivations notwithstanding, a curious coincidence was that both McVeigh and Page were inspired by The Turner Diaries a manifesto of sorts for the National Alliance, America’s most powerful hate group and authored by the group’s leader, William Pierce. McVeigh rejected the book’s racism, Page embraced it.
The FBI announced today that Page shot himself to death after he was wounded in the stomach by a policeman's bullet. It was previously believed that he had been killed in an exchange of fire with the police who arrived at the gurudwara in response to emergency calls.
The probe into the gurudwara gunman’s past made considerable progress with the arrest last night of the killer’s former girlfriend, Misty Cook. She was arrested not for any role in Sunday’s shooting, but for being in illegal possession of a firearm.
“In a joint investigation with the FBI, the South Milwaukee Police Department has arrested Misty Cook on the crime of felon in possession of a firearm. Charges will be sought through the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office,” Milwaukee police said in a statement. Her 2002 felony was described as fleeing and eluding the traffic police.
It is likely that Cook could provide valuable leads on Page. The two broke up several weeks before the gurdwara rampage and he disappeared, according to accounts by the couple’s neighbours in the Milwaukee media. That is probably when he plotted Sunday’s shooting.
Pete Simi, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska, meanwhile, came forward yesterday to tell ABC News that he had interviewed Page a decade ago for his research on white supremacists.
The gunman told the professor then that his neo-Nazi beliefs came after serving in the US army. “When he joined his first white power music band, this really changed his life,” Simi told ABC News.
An excessive drinker, according to records from police departments in several states that are now being sought by the FBI, Page was sent to 60 days jail in Denver in 1999 for “driving while ability impaired”.
Curiously, officials in Wisconsin have requested that police photographs from that 1999 arrest should not be released, according to The Denver Post. The newspaper said Page was subsequently detained in two counties for driving with a licence that had been suspended.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which maintains a database of racist symbols, said yesterday that the gunman’s tattooed body would offer clues to his connections with hate groups and their role, if any, in Sunday’s shooting.
According to ABC News, Page sported one tattoo below his right shoulder with the number “838,” which corresponds sequentially with those letters of the English alphabet. The letters H, C and H make up an acronym for the Hammerskins skinhead group’s motto: “Hail the Crossed Hammers.” The Hammerskins has been accused of several murders since the 1980s. Page also had tattooed the letters W and P on the back of his hands. The League said the letters were short for White Power.
Another tattoo on his arm was the number 14, a reference to the number of words in the supremacist motto “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” according to the League’s database.
All of which serves to show how organized the subterranean world of neo-Nazis and ultra racists is in the US.
Recent research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, another non-governmental organization like the Anti-Defamation League, has shown a steep increase in white supremacist groups since the election of America’s first black President. Their music, which is a powerful recruiting tool and revenue source, is commonly known as “hatecore.”
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Law Center, told The New York Times today that “we are seeing a movement full of white-hot rage and frustration because they feel they have lost the battle to make America a white country.”