As of this Sunday it'll be a week since six people were killed in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Authorities say 44 year old Wade Michael Page opened fire on the unsuspecting group of paritioners before taking his own life after a short firefight with police. The FBI now says they've reason to believe Page's biography may have played a part in the shootings--it's a story that involves loud music, white supremacist rallies and the city of Orange, California.
Pete Simi is a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. For his doctorate, Simi studied white supremacists in Southern California and says he spent time with Wade Michael Page during his research. He talked with Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson.
When Page and Simi met, Page was sharing a house with friends in Orange California. Simi was studying in Nevada at the time, and his main contact in the Southern California skinhead community was a housemate of Page's--he crashed on their couch. Simi said the Colorado born army veteran wasn't working much at the time. "We ended up spending a lot of time together. You know, going out to lunches, going out to dinners."
Simi recalled a night when he and Page played pool at a bar with pair of strangers--one was African American. "It was a very cordial evening, everybody was polite, there was small talk." he said.
As a researcher, Simi didn't see any hints of the man authorities say Page would later become. "I just felt sick to my stomach when I realized it. I was shocked. People that are involved in these groups, that believe these types of things, violence is a big part of it," said Simi. "I didn't see him as any more threatening than anybody else involved in these groups. He didn't stand out as particularly threatening."
Page was also a musician. During his time in Southern California he played guitar in Youngland, an Orange County based white power band. As a genre, Simi said, white power rock is usually violent and loud: it's not uncommon to hear graphic and gruesome calls to action. "But Youngland's lyrics were quite different, much more innocuous," said Simi.
Page's time in Orange California is only the latest chapter in a long history in Southern California's history with white supremacists. Scattered around corners of Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, Page says some of the white power movement's most notable names got their start in Southern California--names like Tom Metzger, the former KKK leader and founder of the White Aryan Resistance.
Simi added that white supremacist bands frequently tour the United States, and sometimes beyond. "Actually Youngland--I guess it would've been around 2004, 2005--played a show in Germany that attracted close to 5,000 attendees," said Simi.
Though hate groups and movements like those that Wade MIchael Page was involved in are few and far between in the States, Simi says that's beside the point. "The Oklahoma city bombing is a good example of that," he said. "A few people ended up orchestrating an incident that at the time was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism, and to this day is the second."
Pete Simi is the author of American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate.