Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism Advisory Board member and University of Nebraska at Omaha Criminology professor Pete Simi had extensive long term contact with alleged Wisconsin mass killer Wade Michael Page when he was conducting a multi-year study of the hate rock music scene in Southern California. Page was a prominent figure in the hate rock world who had links to different hate groups. Dr. Simi recently co-authored (with Robert Futrell, University of Nevada, Las Vegas) the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate. His research on extremist movements has been funded by the National Institute of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. The interview was conducted this morning by Center director Prof. Brian Levin, who has also studied hate rock and was formerly the Associate Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch and Militia Task Force in the 1990s. Both will appear on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews this evening at 7PM EST
When did you first meet Wade Page and what was he generally like at that time?
I met Page in 2001 while I was conducting fieldwork studying white supremacist groups in Southern California. Page had recently moved to Orange County, California and was living with another research subject I already knew. Wade was immediately friendly and didn't seem to have any problems with me hanging around doing research. He actually seemed to enjoy talking about his beliefs and at times I think he hoped to convert me. There were times when he was a little quiet and awkward but other times he seemed to loosen up and would joke around a lot. He definitely had a drinking problem and would pass out regularly. His heavy drinking made it hard for him to get to work.
Who was Page affiliated with and what types of activities was he involved in?
When I first met Page he was new to Southern California but he'd been around the white supremacist movement for a while. In Southern California he was spending time with a lot of different groups and was very involved in the white power music scene playing guitar in bands and trying to help promote shows. He had contacts with the National Alliance, Hammerskin Nation, different Klan groups, Volksfront and various other groups active in the white supremacist movement.
How long did you know Page and when was the last time he contacted you?
Approximately two years between 2001 through 2003. My last contact with him was a phone conversation in 2003 while he was still in Southern California and while I was still in graduate school in Las Vegas.
What is Hate Rock?
Hate rock spans several different types of music but is connected by an underlying commitment to white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology. The bands and shows can be found across the globe but are most prominent in Europe and the United States.
What are the most important aspects of hate music?
Hate music is important for a number of reasons. The music is used to recruit new members and generate revenue for organizations. Most importantly the music brings like-minded individuals together in terms of smaller music shows at bars and larger music festivals held on private property. The music helps members feel like they are part of something bigger and there are others out there who feel the same way they do.
What were some of his favorite websites or social networks?
He talked about Radio White, a local Orange County, California white power radio website, and even helped host some of the shows. He also talked about Resistance Records and Panzerfaust Records websites, and the National Alliance website. I also remember Stormfront coming up but I don't recall if he talked much about posting on the site. During that time I knew him he would spend time on the Internet but wasn't on there all the time like some people involved in these groups.
How would you categorize Page?
I would say he was an independent neo-Nazi skinhead who saw his musical involvement as his main form of activism.
How did Page speak about Muslims, Sikhs, other groups and 9/11?
I distinctly remember an email exchange with him shortly after 9/11 and he was very angry about Muslims and said something to the effect of America needing to go over to the Middle East and bomb 'em all. Aside from that, most of his rhetoric was not specifically targeted toward Muslims or Sikhs. Most of his rhetoric was directed more generically about "nonwhites" or more specifically about Blacks and Jewish people. Of course he didn't use these terms but instead referred to "ZOG" (Zionist Occupational Government) or "niggers" etc.
What was your response when you found out that Page was a subject of your research and an acquaintance?
When I saw his photo on the Southern Poverty Law Center website Monday afternoon I literally felt sick. It actually took me a couple minutes to actually be able to say, "That's Wade, I knew him."
What did Page do for a living and how did he get money when he didn't work?
He worked at a general labor type job as I recall. He actually was out-of-work quite a bit which caused some strife with his housemate. When he was working he had a hard time getting to work because he drank so heavily. Page also had a problem paying his share of the rent and food so that created some problems too. I know he borrowed money from people around the scene and behind his back people would complain about him "free loading".
What role did music, both hateful and mainstream play in his life? How accomplished was he as a bassist?
He definitely loved music and not just white power music. I actually remember him talking a lot about the rock band Rush and how much he admired their music. He liked a lot of punk music too that wasn't necessarily white power and he spoke favorably about some grunge music like Nirvana but his true passion seemed to be with the white power music. I'm not a musician so it's hard for me to say how accomplished he was but from what I could gather he seemed to know what he was doing which isn't always the case with these nonprofessional bands. Some of the less accomplished musicians are made fun of in terms of their lack of talent but I never heard anyone complain about his guitar playing.
Aside from Definite Hate and End Apathy, what were some other bands he played in?
Youngland and Intimidation One both come to mind but given the structure of bands in white power music scene I know he played in a lot of other bands when needed like Max Resist, Aggressive Force, Blue Eyed Devils and many others as well.
Did he read or seek out any mainstream news sources?
He watched local and national network news and would talk about seeing news on the Internet like Yahoo or on movement sites like Stormfront.
How did Page get involved in the world of hate?
He explained to me that growing up in the Denver area he was aware of skinheads including white power folks after he got involved in the local punk rock scene in the late 1980s. But he said that his real interest started during his time in the military. He once told me, "If you don't go into the military as a racist, you definitely leave as one." He also talked about meeting neo-Nazis in the military and being exposed to neo-Nazi literature while in the military. Once he left the military he went to a music show where he met members of the band Youngland and shortly after that he drove his motorcycle across country relocating to Southern California with not much more than the clothes on his back.
He was stationed at Fort Bragg where the National Alliance actively recruited and where neo-Nazi soldiers were convicted of murdering a Black couple just off base. What did he think of those killings?
We talked about the murders once and James Burmeister and he certainly didn't condemn the violence. He didn't come out and say, "yeah that's what needs to happen" but he didn't seem bothered at all by it either. Like a lot of the violence that comes from the movement there's this attitude of you gotta do these things to survive. It's a twisted way of turning unprovoked violence into self-defense.
In my research of mass killers and violent hate mongers, I have found that many were socially or psychologically isolated, as well as having notable difficulties with jobs, family and relationships with women. Which of these, if any were present with Page?
Several of those fit him during the time I knew him. Job instability, difficulties with female relationships, he certainly didn't have a close relationship with his family and was not in frequent contact with them (at least not face-to-face). He wasn't visibly delusional but I wouldn't be surprised if he was chronically depressed. He was also a bit awkward socially at least at times. Nothing really striking but just a little awkward. He talked a lot about how thankful he was that he met Youngland and moved to Southern California because it changed his life by giving him as he said "a bunch of bros." (meaning brothers). He definitely felt that before he came to Southern California he was alone and was very appreciative of having these new friends but I'm not sure how much he actually fit in and he may have known that as well.
What was his childhood like? Were his parents hate mongers?
He described his childhood and family as pretty average. He said his parents did not share his beliefs. He said he wasn't very close with his family. His parents divorced when he was fairly young and not long after that he said his mother died. It was clear he wasn't comfortable talking too much about his family so I didn't press him much.
Different skinhead subcultures have different attitudes towards drugs and alcohol use, what was Page's?
He expressed significant disdain for drugs but drank alcohol heavily on a regular basis.
Was he someone who hung out with hate groups as opposed to officially joining them? What were the groups he was most closely linked to?
To my knowledge at the time I knew him he wasn't an official member of any group but he did hang out a lot with different ones and seemed to think that a more general unified approach was better and expressed frustration for groups fighting with each other. At the time I knew him he was closely associated with National Alliance, Hammerskins, and Volksfront. [Editor Note: It has been reported that Page deepened his ties to the neo-Nazi Hammerskin hate group in later years]
How many tattoos did Page have when you met him in 2001?
He had some white power tattoos by that time. He had a German soldier on one of his calves and some tattoos on his arms but the more recent photos I've seen since the shooting definitely indicate more tattoos than when I knew him. Tattoos are part of your resume when you're in the white supremacist movement and covering your body with movement-related symbols and words are part of how you demonstrate your commitment to the cause. White supremacist tattoos often have coded meanings like Page's tattoo with the number "14" which stands for the 14 Words ("We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children") penned by now deceased David Lane a member of the American terrorist group the Silent Brotherhood. Page also had a tattoo of a Celtic cross which is widely used by white supremacists across the movement.
Did Page have any firearms when you knew him?
Yes, I saw rifles that appeared to be military type rifles.
Neo-Nazi music lyrics vary, can you explain?
Sure. Actually there's a pretty wide range of lyrics ranging from in-your-face, hateful chants advocating violence to subtler lyrics advocating pride in nation and race. One of the bands Page first played with, Youngland had pretty innocuous lyrics. For example, one of their songs "It's Our Time" has some of the following lyrics: "Here's a story about the way to live your life as a soldier with honor and dignity..." but his more recent band, Definite Hate was far less subtle. For example, their song "Lock and Load" has some of the following lyrics: "Group of monkeys on the corner with no idea death in sight.." The difference in these lyrics is actually pretty typical for the music scene as a whole.
In the book you co-authored, American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate, did you use any quotes from Page or did anything about him stand out?
One of things he said that I recall quite clearly was at a neo-Nazi music we attended together. We were standing near the bar survey the scene that evening and I asked about all the different types of white supremacist groups that were in attendance at the show and how he felt about that. He turned to me and smiled and then said, "Diversity is our strength you know."
Follow Brian Levin, J.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/proflevin