Wisconsin gunman Wade Michael Page was not shy about his own red flags: His public ties to white supremacy organizations put him on the radar not only of civil rights groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, but of federal investigators, who had “looked at” Page “more than once” over the span of a decade before Sunday’s deadly shooting. Prior to killing six people at a Sikh temple, Page was vocal about his ties to right-wing extremists, playing in racist skinhead bands like End Apathy and Define Hate, and associating with the national white supremacist group the Hammerskins. But despite concerns that he was helping to fund a domestic terrorist group, law enforcement officials determined there was not enough evidence to open a criminal investigation.
“This happens a lot where somebody will come to your attention and you do a preliminary investigation of the guy’s activities and nothing pans out,” retired FBI agent Bob Blizter told the Los Angeles Times. “Some private groups collect a lot of information, but they can. Law enforcement can’t.”
Page made his beliefs known and urged action, but stopped short of advocating violence directly in writings that have turned up so far. “If you are wanting to meet people, get involved and become active,” he wrote on skinhead Internet forums last year. “Stop hiding behind the computer or making excuses.” He said things like “Stand and fight, don’t run,” and declared, “Passive submission is indirect support to the oppressors.”
Still, the shooter’s former stepmom said she was shocked by his ultimate actions. “He was gentle and kind and loving and a he was a happy person and a happy child. And what happened, God only knows, because I don’t,” she said, having last seen Page in 1999. “When he lived in Texas with us, he had Hispanic friends and he had black friends. You know, there was none of that.”
In the Army, Page specialized in psychological operations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he was demoted in 1998 for being drunk on duty and going AWOL, Newsday reports. Later that year he was discharged and turned his focus to the white power music scene. In 2001, GQ profiled Page’s band Define Hate, and singled out “Heart to My Nation” as the group’s anthem, with lyrics like, “Our heritage is fading / Our people have turned back … Our heritage is growing / Our people fighting back.”
“A lot of what I realized at the time was that if we could figure out how to end people’s apathetic ways it would be the start towards moving forward,” Page told an interviewer in 2010. “Of course after that it requires discipline, strict discipline to stay the course in our sick society.”