The estranged girlfriend of Wade Michael Page, who gunned down six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday, was arrested on firearms charges, the FBI said Wednesday, and hate crime watchdogs said she had been tracked for years for involvement in white supremacist groups.
The FBI said Misty Cook had no involvement in the Sunday massacre at the Milwaukee area temple. Experts, however, say photographs on social media showing Ms. Cook posing alongside male members of various white power groups reveal the growing role that women play in these organizations.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says it has monitored Cook’s movements for years.
Women are becoming more valuable in the organizations because they are perceived as offering traits that their male counterparts do not, experts say. Women are less prone to violence and petty crimes, which attract the growing attention of federal authorities, and they are better at recruiting new members because they are perceived as more trustworthy and sincere, the experts say.
Many white supremacists also value white women for bearing children – white children, in particular – which is crucial to hate groups’ distaste for what they see as the threat of multiculturalism.
“Women are bringing new blood in, and that is the future of white supremacy,” says Kathleen Blee, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement.”
Cook, who worked at a restaurant one block from the Sikh temple, has shown remorse for the attack by Mr. Page, her former boyfriend, who the FBI said Wednesday killed himself with the same weapon he used to kill five men and one woman in Oak Creek, a southern Milwaukee suburb. Police said earlier he had been killed by gunfire from officers responding to the 911 calls at the temple.
“If I could say something to ease the pain of the victims and their families I would gladly do so,” she wrote in a message published Tuesday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Unfortunately, words do not begin to heal the pain they are going through.”
It was unclear when she had sent the message.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says Page was a member of the regional affiliate of Hammerskin Nation, a white supremacist organization.
Cook and Page lived together in an apartment in South Milwaukee. According to the FBI, they broke up in June and he moved to nearby Cudahy. Police raided her apartment on Tuesday, finding a gun that she had been barred from owning following a 2005 conviction of eluding police, according to the Journal-Sentinel. She served more than three months in prison.
According to the ADL, Cook was known as an active participant in online white supremacist chat groups. She was also associated with Volksfront International, which describes itself on its website as “a secular fraternal organization for working persons of European descent” but which the ADL categorizes as a neo-Nazi organization.
In several photos provided by the ADL, Cook is the only woman in a group of men, and posed holding banners or wearing a T-shirt bearing the group’s logo. The group has denied she was a member, according to the Journal-Sentinel.
E-mails sent by the Monitor to an address on the Volksfront website seeking comment were not immediately answered.
The white supremacist movement was primarily male until the 1990s, according to Professor Blee, when some leaders decided women were more trusting and reliable and thus better able to avoid police surveillance.
“It coincided with these groups wanting to go more and more under the radar” to evade the new surveillance methods targeting domestic terrorism, Blee says.
In the past, women were invited to join through their spouses or boyfriends, but in recent years, Blee says, white supremacists have targeted mothers and stoked fears about community safety and public school education. Recruiting usually first takes place via socializing, starting at innocuous locations like childbirthing classes, Blee says.
“Women are pushed to have babies and they are valorized for being mothers. Depending on the group, motherhood can trap you into the group even more. They’re not very easy to get into and they’re not very easy to leave,” she says. The threat of physical violence often traps women as well.
The roles women play vary, but they tend to become public voices for future recruiting, while the men very often play a greater leadership role, but in the background. Blee estimates that women represent 25 percent of white supremacists operating today, and that number is likely to rise to just under half in the coming years. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 1,018 hate groups operating in the US today.
“Women have a reach into the mainstream,” she says. “They’re able to recruit people in a more subtle way than men.”
Amy Cooter, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies militia groups, says white supremacist women tend to get recruited at an early age, usually between their late teens and late 20s. Some of them get hooked because they want to support a spouse or a boyfriend who might perceive he’s been wronged by a nonwhite person.
In many instances, the women “see themselves as victims of interracial violence or crimes,” resulting from some isolated incident that happened to them in childhood, Professor Cooter says.
There are even separate splinter groups in the white supremacist movement catering specifically to women. One group, the Women for Aryan Unity, operates a website that offers tips on childcare and parenting and endorses homeschooling and home births. Another, the Family Assistance for White Nationalists, is a fundraising group.
Neither group could be located for comment.