Wisconsin shooting: how racist bands recruit for white supremacists (+video)

The suspect in the Wisconsin shooting rampage was a member of a racist rock band, part of an underground music scene that is a powerful recruitment arm of the white supremacist movement.

By , Staff writer

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    Police stand outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Aug. 6. The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple in southern Wisconsin was a former US serviceman, a law enforcement official said on Monday, and a monitor of extremists said the shooter had links to racist groups.
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The suspect in the shooting rampage that killed six people at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee Sunday was involved in an underground music scene that doubles as the recruitment arm of the white supremacist movement.

Wade Michael Page of Cudahy, Wis., was the guitarist and founder of End Apathy, a hard-core punk band that espoused white power sentiments in its music. The band is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of a dozen bands that have been involved with national white supremacist organizations over the past few years.  

In an April 2010 interview posted on the website of Label 56, the group’s record label, Mr. Page said the topics of his songs “vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to.” Page also said he played in the bands Definite Hate and 13 Knots, both of which are associated with the white supremacist movement.

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Police outside the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killed Page, a five-year military veteran who was never deployed, after officials say he killed six people with a 9-mm semiautomatic handgun. Police officials and the FBI have not yet issued a motive for the shooting, although they say they are looking into Page’s ties to white supremacist groups. The FBI’s investigation will determine whether the incident is classified as one of domestic terrorism.

Label 56 sought to distance itself from Page and his band Monday afternoon by releasing a statement saying it was “very sorry to hear about the tragedy” and that it was removing all images and products related to End Apathy from its website so it would not profit “financially or with publicity.”

“Please do not take what Wade did as honorable or respectable and please do not think we are all like that,” the statement concludes.

The Label 56 website promotes many events and causes linked to white supremacy, including videos for Merlin Miller, a 2012 presidential candidate for the American Third Position Party, an organization that promotes white supremacy, and information for the annual European American Heritage Celebration, held next month in Moosic, Pa.

Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center, described the “hate music” community as sophisticated and operating in much the same way as the mainstream music industry: Its bands tour the country and abroad, listeners are engaged via website videos and social media outlets, and grass-roots promotional outreach includes T-shirts, CDs, posters, video games, and other merchandise.

Ms. Beirich says bands with the same group of musicians change their names often to make it appear as if the scene is growing. Most labels, such as Tightrope Records and Resistance Records, are associated with major white supremacist groups. Their target, she says, are young people, to get them involved in the movement.

“It’s a great recruiting tool for these organizations and they know it’s a great recruiting tool,” she says.

The most notable example is “Project Schoolyard USA,” organized by Panzerfaust Records, a now-defunct white supremacist label in Minneapolis that in 2004 distributed 10,000 free copies of a mixed CD of its bands to schoolchildren across the US. The group’s website carries the slogan, “we don’t just entertain racist kids: we create them.”

In the online interview, Page said his band played Hammerfest 2000, which Beirich describes as the “equivalent of Lollapalooza but in the hate world.” Hammerskin Nation, considered one of the best-organized neo-Nazi skinhead groups in the United States, organizes the festival.

Often the record labels are disorganized, are not necessarily motivated by profit, and are operated by just a handful of people, says Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist in Chicago who left the movement to cofound Life After Hate, a nonprofit that provides educational programs about tolerance to schools.

Mr. Piccolini played in the white supremacist band White American Youth between 1990 and 1993, and later became leader of the Northern Hammerskins. “The band members were like marketers of the organization,” he says, because music is such an inherently powerful tool to impress, and eventually hook, young teenagers.

“The most dangerous thing is the music. It’s not the organization; it’s the message in the music,” he says. “Music in general can create an emotional impulse, and the skinheads understood that really well.”

Picciolini did not know Page or his bands. He says the educational work he does today in schools is designed to reach young people with the message that kindness and compassion are stronger than hate.

“If Wade had been shown kindness 20 years ago, chances are maybe he wouldn’t have gone down that path,” he says. 

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