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Crime & Justice

Could better monitoring of hate groups have prevented the Sikh temple shooting?

The mug shot handed out by the FBI of the suspect Wade Michael Page after a press conference on the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin
The mug shot handed out by the FBI of the suspect Wade Michael Page after a press conference on the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin
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As more information comes out about the hate-filled life of Wisconsin Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page, some are asking whether more effective monitoring of hate groups could have prevented the loss of six innocent lives.

"Hateful ideology in and of itself is not a crime, nor a basis to deprive someone of a right that is otherwise guaranteed by law," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino said on AirTalk. "One thing though, the skinhead subculture does glorify violent acts. While most of these people are more or less benign, they are a more dangerous subculture of the extremist hate world."

40-year-old Page was a known white supremacist with financial troubles, an alcoholic past and a questionable military record. He played in skinhead metal bands and was active on Internet forums about white supremacy. According to the Associated Press, “[Page] described himself as a member of the 'Hammerskins Nation,' a skinhead group rooted in Texas that has branches in Australia and Canada.” His band's lyrics talked of genocide against Jews and other minorities.

But just espousing violent or hateful speech doesn't mean that a person will likely commit violent acts.

"For most of these folks particularly with the advent of social media… a lot of times these folks are actually acting out with low level aggression, that is verbally or rhetorically," said Levin. "The difficulty is that many of these folks will not act violently."

Page worked as a driver for a trucking company from 2006 to 2010, but he was fired for driving a personal vehicle “while subject to an impairing substance,” the company Barr-Nunn Transportation said in a statement Public records show his North Carolina home was foreclosed on in January.

In the 1990s, Page served in the U.S. Army. He had been disciplined for drinking on duty and going AWOL, leading to his discharge in 1998. Levin's colleague Pete Simi at the University of Nebraska, Omaha and other experts who monitor hate groups and white supremacists, had tracked and interviewed Wade Michael Page, but at the time didn't view him as a threat.

"Even in subcultures there are people we call chest-thumpers. I think he was someone who was kind of more of the soft-peddler of this stuff … it appeared that he became more into this movement and joined the Hammerskins," said Levin. "He was a quiet guy, socially isolated, drank a lot … he had turbulent experiences with women, had a turbulent job history. Pete [Simi] said he wasn't a chest thumper and he wasn't the kind of guy you would think would actually go out and commit violence."

However, Levin says that over time Page seems to have become more involved in the neo-nazi scene, especially after joining the army.

So should people who openly flaunt their violent, neo-nazi beliefs be allowed to own weapons? No says Levin, citing constitutionality.

"We have all these different subcultures of which we have a very small sliver of folks very well might be dangerous, but the vast majority are not," said Levin. "We just can't, as a matter of Constitutional law, ban people from exercising their rights, nor can we target them for criminal investigation merely because the express odious views."

Confessions of a Ex-Neo-Nazi

During the segment, Dan from Los Alamitos called in to tell us about his experience as a member of the Hammerskins in San Diego. He no longer subscribes to the neo-nazi beliefs of the Hammerskins group, but understands how dangerous they can be.

"I honestly believe that these guys should be tracked," said Dan on AirTalk. "They're just like any other gang member, ultimately. Thats how i got into it … I came from a broken home and these guys became my family. That's who these guys are, for the most part."

Dan was so deep into the group that he served at the state director for the Western Hammerskins. However he didn't know Page personally. He says that being a part of the group "was just constant hate," against all ethnicities other than whites. He also says he was attracted to this lifestyle growing up in Carson where he was one of four white kids at his school.

"We got beat up by the black kids and the Mexican kids and it spirals from there … I blamed them for who they presented themselves to be," he said.

So how can lives like Dan's be turned around before the hate groups inspire violence like that committed by Page?

"Catch them when they're young," said Dan. "The older cats that are in that movement, you're not going to get to them."

Weigh In

How much did authorities know about him? How did Page compare to others in the white power movement? What is the current state of white supremacist groups?


Brian Levin, Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino