OAK CREEK, Wis. — The gunman in the Sikh temple shooting here was steeped in white supremacy during his Army days and spouted his racist views on the job as a soldier, according to some who served with him.
“It’s kind of amazing he was able to stay in, especially given what was going on around base at the time,” said Fred Lucas, a former soldier who served with Page at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion.
Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in this suburb south of Milwaukee on Sunday morning, police say, and opened fire, killing six worshippers and wounding two others. After also wounding one police officer responding to the call, Page was shot dead by other officers.
Law enforcement officials have not identified a motive for why Page targeted the Sikhs, but members of the religious group are often mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans and beards.
Page, a soldier from 1992 to 1998, did little to hide his white-supremacist beliefs, Lucas said, but he could not have predicted that Page would act out violently.
Among the open signs of Page’s extremism were his tattoos. Officials at Fort Bragg — where 21 soldiers were identified as white supremacists after a skinhead soldier was convicted of murdering a black couple in 1995 — conducted tattoo inspections to track down anybody with extremist markings. Yet a tattoo on Page’s left shoulder referencing the 14-word mantra of skinheads apparently went unnoticed.
The credo reads: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Page drove a Volkswagen Thing, a boxy vehicle resembling a Nazi staff car, that he had repainted from orange to red. With white trim and black tires, it mirrored the colors of the Nazi flag, Lucas said.
Page, who was a team leader, wasn’t shy about his views during working hours, Lucas said.
Page often chided him for betraying his race with his interest in Latin culture. Lucas, a fellow sergeant and team leader, spoke Spanish, had served in Latin America and went to salsa bars on the weekends. Page said that Lucas, blond-haired and blue-eyed, should be committed to the master race, Lucas recalled.
On a day the unit had allowed the soldiers to wear civilian clothes, Lucas said Page criticized him for wearing a Latin shirt called a guyabera, saying that kind of attire wasn’t something white people should wear.
Christopher Robillard, who served with Page and calls him his closest friend from that time, told CNN that Page was involved with white supremacy and was kicked out of the Army for showing up to formation drunk.
When Lucas saw Page had been busted to specialist and was out processing from the Army, he assumed it was for being a neo-Nazi, but he learned from other soldiers that Page had attended a white power concert on a weeknight and showed up to work late and still intoxicated.
“So they only got him for being drunk,” Lucas said.
Today’s Army has an increasing problem with neo-Nazis, according to Matt Kennard, author of “Irregular Army: How the War on Terror Brought Neo-Nazis, gang members and criminals into the U.S. military.”
While still a tiny percentage of servicemembers, the military’s waiver policy that began with recruitment shortages in 2005 opened the door for white supremacists and gang members, who previously had trouble enlisting because of past criminal behavior, Kennard said.
“Page is not alone,” he said. “That is quite clear.”
After leaving the military, Page became heavily immersed in the hate rock music scene, joining several bands with names such as Intimidation One, Aggressive Force, and Blue Eyed Devils. In 2005, he formed his own band, End Apathy.
Page was active in social media frequented by white supremacists and used the forums both to tout his beliefs and to promote his band. He sometimes went by the name Jack Boot, according to Jenna Benn, the Anti-Defamation League’s assistant regional director in Chicago.
Page’s life started to deteriorate in August 2010 when he was fired from his trucking job after he was arrested for driving his personal vehicle under the influence in North Carolina. The company, Barr-Nunn Transportation, said in a statement that any alcohol-related citations were against company policy.
Page was living in rural North Carolina near Fort Bragg, but he could no longer afford the house he had bought in 2007. It was foreclosed, and is currently for sale for nearly $50,000 less than what Page purchased it for. Last month, he quit his job working in a machine shop for Lucas Milhaupt in Milwaukee, according to local news reports.
Page had been on the Anti-Defamation League’s radar for years for his outspoken involvement with the Hammerskin Nation, a white supremacist group that the ADL reports has a history of violence and hate crimes since it’s inception in Dallas in the 1980s.
Page followed his girlfriend, Misty Cook, to Milwaukee earlier this year, Benn said. Cook is affiliated with the white-power group Volksfront and is a supporter of the Hammerskins, Benn said, noting that Cook is a prolific poster on hate forums.
According to the Hammerskins’ website, they are “a leaderless group of men and women who have adopted the White Power Skinhead lifestyle.” One of the largest white-supremacist groups in the country, the Hammerskins are primarily known for hate rock music.
Attempts to contact both Cook and representatives of the Hammerskins group were unsuccessful.