Editor’s note: Boulder Weekly Editor Joel Dyer is the author of Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning. He has been researching and reporting on the root causes of domestic terrorism for more than 20 years. His work on this subject has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, U.S. News & World Report and other national publications. He has also been called to testify as an expert at several of the nation’s highest profile domestic terrorism trials.
According to authorities, on Sunday, Aug. 5, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and started systematically killing innocent people who had gathered to worship. By the time Page was finally wounded by police officers arriving at the scene, he had murdered five men, one woman and wounded three others, including a police officer whom he shot eight times from close range.
The question now being asked by nearly everyone, including those who lost loved ones, members of the media and the public at large, is “why?” One news report after another tells us that there was no hint that Page was about to commit an unthinkable act of violence — no note, no Facebook post, no confession to friends or family as he headed off to do his final deed, nothing whatsoever that would have indicated he was about to blow.
But while the motive for this mass killing, including Page’s own decision to go out with a self-inflicted bullet to his head, may seem invisible to most of us, it is crystal clear to all of those who have themselves enlisted to fight in the same war that Wade Michael Page was waging when he entered that temple. His seemingly random actions were anything but, and were likely designed to encourage his fellow warriors to take similar action.
If we look closely, the clues are there. They say that Page left no explanation, no manifesto, but he actually left a very long note of sorts explaining his motives, a note that took years to write and was inscribed with ink and blood.
Page was a skinhead — not the wimpy, punk-music-loving, multicultural-tolerant, do-my-skinny-jeans-and-new-piercing-look-cool type, but rather a Hammerskin, a stomp-the-teeth-out-of-an-old-black-woman, shoot-a-Sikh kind of racist skinhead.
To those who know how to translate the message, Page’s explanation for the killing was written in several locations, his hate-filled songs, the racist websites he visited and, finally, carved into his body in the form of his many tattoos.
According to reports and available photographs, he had a Celtic knot on his back, a Celtic cross with the number 14 on his left shoulder, a fire tat running down his leg and other numbers and imagery associated with notions of white pride, supremacy and violent intentions for his enemies etched all over his torso. The number 14 stands for 14 words considered nearly sacred in skinhead circles: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
It should be noted that what wasn’t present among Page’s tattoos was anything pertaining to 9/11. It had been widely and wrongly reported by national news outlets that such a tattoo was on Page’s arm. This misinformation led to speculation that Page, a former member of the U.S. Army, may have targeted the Sikhs in retaliation for 9/11, incorrectly believing that they were Muslims. But this is unlikely. We want our murderers to be that stupid and inept, but in reality, an understanding of the worldview that informed Page’s day-to-day life makes it clear that being Sikh, or more importantly brown and not white, was more than enough motive for him to do what he did.
If his inked skin didn’t paint a clear enough picture of his racist ideals, Page also made his motives pretty clear in the white-power music he wrote and performed at various skinhead and white supremacist gatherings across the country.
For the past seven years, Page was a member of at least two different bands in the hate-music genre, End Apathy and Definite Hate.
Here’s a sample of lyrics from a Definite Hate song titled “Take Action”:
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.
Pretty chilling, considering that Page allegedly murdered his Sikh victims with a 9mm he had legally purchased about a week before the shootings.
Page and his bandmates sold their racist, antiauthoritarian music through a skinhead record label, Label 56. Two organizations that monitor hate groups, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have both identified Label 56 as a racist skinhead organization.
For those unfamiliar with racist skinhead culture, the music — generally punk comprised of violence-laced, racist lyrics — is a serious component of the overall belief system and can even define a skinhead organization’s hierarchy. Both bands and record labels are often considered racist organizations by those who monitor the movement.
It is estimated that there are between 80 and 120 different skinhead factions, also known as crews, active in the U.S. at any given time. It is difficult to be more exact, as groups merge, divide, disband, start up and sometimes move to new cities in their entirety with some frequency. Because of this fluidity, few skinhead organizations have managed to achieve a national, or international, presence. The Hammerskins of which Page was reportedly a member are one of the larger groups, with a significant number of members and reach.
But even the Hammerskins are divided and fractured into regional crews displaying differing levels of violence and organization. Nonetheless, this particular group is considered to be one of the most violent skinhead organizations currently in existence.
But just because Page was reportedly a member of the Hammerskins doesn’t mean that the larger organization had foreknowledge of or anything to do with the massacre at the Oak Creek temple, apart from creating an environment where such horrific actions are viewed as something noble. Such group involvement is nearly always discouraged because it is considered dangerous from a law enforcement perspective.
Consider these instructions for “revolutionary action” that the ADL reports were presented by white supremacist Tom Metzger in August 2003 at a White Unity festival in Indiana attended by Outlaw Hammerskins, Northern Hammerskins, Hoosier-State Skins, Klansmen and Creativity Church members. According to the ADL, Metzger’s “plan called for ‘lone wolf ’ tactics, silent operations, blending with the community (regrowing hair, covering/removing tattoos), the acquisition of professional jobs, identification of informants, and a commitment to action. Metzger stressed the importance of maintaining a stoic attitude symbolized by the ‘Five Words’ (‘I have nothing to say’) if one is caught in illegal acts.”
In other words, a lone skinhead walking into a temple full of nonwhite Sikhs and gunning them down is exactly the type of operation that Metzger seems to be endorsing.
But it’s not just Metzger. The idea of leaderless resistance and lone-wolf action has been the preferred tactical approach to antigovernment and racist attacks since the days of Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid 1990s. Many hate group leaders have expressed the need for individuals rather than groups to plan and carry out racist actions and killings.
So we know that Page was a racist skinhead. We know from his music that he seemed concerned about the apathy of white people when it came to fighting for their race, and that he promoted the idea of violence as a means of fighting back against perceived threats from minorities and government. But why did he feel this way? Where did such beliefs come from and how did they take root? Since Page is dead, we can only speculate based on his behavior and known associations.
Page first came onto the radar of the SPLC in 2000 when he attempted to purchase materials from The National Alliance, at that time the nation’s most powerful hate group because it was led by none other than William Pierce. You may recall Pierce’s name. He was the author of the book The Turner Diaries, which has, to one degree or another, played a role in nearly every act of racist domestic terrorism since at least the 1980s. Parts of the book were found in the passenger seat of Tim McVeigh’s car when he was initially pulled over and arrested less than an hour after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Within the racist and antigovernment movements, The Turner Diaries is considered more of an operations manual than a work of fiction. In the book, the lead character, Turner, eventually commits a brazen act of terrorism and murder, which ultimately ignites the final race war predicted by most adherents of racist belief systems, including Christian identity. Turner, of course, becomes a hero for his inspiring attack, as blacks, Jews and other minorities — including those who dared to betray their race by way of marriage to a minority or homosexuality — are lynched from every utility poll across the nation. The book paints a stomach-turning image of this white man’s ultimate triumph.
Since the book’s publication, one Turner-wannabe after another has stepped forward to commit “the act” of violence that they believe will ultimately lead to the overthrow of the federal government and kick off the race war that they truly believe will make them “the hero” in the eyes of their peers.
It may sound like a crazy fantasy to most of us, but it is a deadly serious reality for those who have been poured into the funnel of conspiracy theories and Identity theology, only to come out the other end as a racist terrorist willing to die and kill for his beliefs.
For the most part, the white supremacy belief system is based upon certain conspiracy theories, first among them being that Jews have secretly taken over the governments of the world with the intention of destroying or subjugating all other races who could threaten their power.
This obviously isn’t new thinking. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the supposed blueprint for Jewish global domination, has been being circulated amidst anti-Semites and white supremacists for more than a century. Henry Ford had his newspaper declare the document real, and the industrialist paid to print and circulate more than a half million copies. The Nazis also used the Protocols to justify their decimation of the Jewish population. You cannot underestimate the power of conspiracy thinking. Once people have come to truly believe that a conspiracy is absolutely true, they are confronted with a difficult question: Will they act?
It is at this point where a person’s nationalism, patriotism, pride of race and/or religious beliefs become important. These foundational beliefs serve as the igniter for the fuel of conspiracy. For instance, if you are a true American Patriot and you believe that the government has secretly been taken over by Jews — white supremacists refer to the U.S. government as ZOG, Zionist Occupied Government — you have no choice but to fight. Sound silly? This is exactly what Tim McVeigh was thinking when he detonated the Oklahoma City bomb. Until his dying breath he not only didn’t apologize, he defended it as an act of patriotism done on behalf of all of us who are unaware of the real state of things.
Within the white racist movements, Jews, persons of color, race traitors and homosexuals are considered the enemy. For most adherents, this belief has at least its roots in Christian Identity theology to some degree.
Christian Identity has nothing to do with mainstream Christian organizations or beliefs. Identity has a wild and racist interpretation of the Bible. At its core, Identity teaches that Jews are the offspring of Cain, who was born as a result of Eve having been seduced by Satan. As a result, Jews are less than human and, in fact, are actually to this day the servants of Satan as the devil tries to take over the world and defeat God. Persons of color, according to Identity, are not actually humans at all. According to the teaching, they were created along with the other animals, before Adam and Eve were created. As a result, they have no soul and are simply another species, like a cow or dog. This is why they are referred to as “Mudpeople” in racist circles. They are, according to many white supremacists, used like pawns by the Jews in their efforts to take over the world and enslave white Christians.
Many Identity followers could pass a lie detector test while saying they are not racist. This stems from their honest belief that you cannot be racist against a mere animal species. It’s a handy, self-soothing theology for anyone who plans on murdering people of color.
This is obviously the very short, dumbed-down explanation of Identity Theology. But now imagine how America’s racist hate groups and antigovernment groups have interpreted Barack Obama being elected as our first African-American president. Perhaps the simplest way to answer this is to consider that, according to the SPLC, the number of hate groups and patriot organizations, many of which share the racist rights belief in ZOG, skyrocketed since Obama’s election. Patriot groups alone went from 149 known organizations to 1,274 such groups in just the first three years of the Obama presidency.
Now consider how the widespread conspiracy theory that Obama is really a Muslim who wasn’t even born in this country is being interpreted by the true believers of the racist hate groups and white supremacist organizations. We laugh about Donald Trump’s hair as he and Fox News and even the mainstream press continuously give air time to this racist trash talk. But in truth, it is actually believed by millions, and in racist white supremacy circles beckons an answer to questions like, “Will you now take action, do you have the guts to be a hero like the fictional Turner and start the war that will ultimately ‘secure the existence of our people and a future for white children?’”
What happened in Milwaukee was sickening, but it was not without explanation and even purpose. And in some circles Wade Michael Page is today being praised as a hero.
Will an apocalyptic race war now be ignited? Of course not. But it is likely that with the incredible growth of the racist antigovernment movement since the election of Obama, coupled with the mainstreaming of certain conspiracy theories concerning him and his current bid for reelection to a second term, we should expect to see an increasing number of race-based domestic terrorist attacks like the one perpetrated on the Sikhs earlier this week.