A shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this weekend has left six people dead and three wounded. Now that the confusion and conflicting reports during the shooting have settled, we're beginning to learn more about the alleged gunman who carried out the attack. His name was Wade Michael Page. His stepmother never expected that he'd be at the helm of a horrific shooting rampage, but his friends might have had another idea.
Page was a member of two racist skinhead bands, End Apathy and Define Hate. His tattoos espoused affiliation with a nationwide skinhead organization, and he was "a frustrated neo-Nazi," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Alabama-based nonprofit monitors the activities of hate groups throughout the United States, and they had been tracking Page for roughly a decade. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, has followed the activities of hate groups for the organization.
"Basically, he was another one of many hundreds if not thousands of people who were involved in the hard core of the white supremacist music scene," Potok says. "We noticed him when he began to play in some of the better-known bands, bands like Intimidation One and Blue-Eyed Devils."
As Page was well within his First Amendment rights to be involved in these bands and groups of people, the SPLC had no reason to notify authorities. "There was nothing there that would have caused us to go to law enforcement," Potok says.
One of the prevalent theories regarding the gunman's motive was that he confused the temple-goers with Muslims. Male followers of Sikhism wear turbans and grow out their beards, two stereotypical characteristics often attributed to Muslims. Sikh communities in the United States have suffered violence and harassment in a post-9/11 landscape that has seen increased anti-Muslim sentiment.
If Page was purposefully targeting Sikhs, however, the rampage was inconsistent with the current rhetoric of white supremacist groups.
"I have never seen, in 14 or 15 years of monitoring the extreme right, anti-Sikh propaganda," Potok says. "That world, as well as the political mainstream, I'm sad to say, is thick with anti-Muslim propaganda."
"While I certainly cannot prove it, I would guess that almost certainly this man did think he was attacking Muslims."