Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Another bloody Page in US history

WHAT kind of society is the United States of America? What kind of culture? Merely calling it capitalism, or describing it as Western, would tell us very little. As for being Christian, perhaps a majority of Americans are. Certainly the various denominations, and all kind of gospel preachers, do a roaring trade.

But more than a century after the OK Corral, modern America, or sections of it, not just hoodlums but supposedly respectable middle class citizens, are still a gun totin' society. It seems to be the minorities who are expected to "turn the other cheek".

Last night hundreds of people, decent folk of all religions and none, gathered for a candlelit vigil in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to pay respects to six members of the Sikh community, shot dead in their temple by white supremacist Wade Michael Page.

Some felt guilty that they had not known anything about the Sikhs in their town.

"We didn't know about them," said Loren Bauer, a retired machinist. "We see them but we don't pay much attention. A lot of them drive cabs and have gas stations and convenience stores. The only thing I ever heard about them was that a lot of people thought they were Muslims after 9/11."

Teri Pelzek, too, had barely heard of Sikhs. "I knew nothing about them at all. I don't think a lot of people did. When we don't know about somebody's religion we assume the worst," she said

Police and others remarked on the Sikh's willingness to show forgiveness to their assailant. Page was shot dead (or shot himself, according to some reports)after also shooting a police officer,

Americans' ignorance of other people and religions has been blamed for attacks on Sikhs, who with their turbans have been mistaken for Muslims by those with only a hazy idea of eastern religions. The implication of some comments would suggest that killing Muslims is OK. A more pertinent suspicion might be that the killers go looking for handy targets, and are not fussy whom they hit. Shocking as the temple shooting was, it was not entirely new, as Sonny Hundal has poited out:

On 15 September 2001, 52-year-old Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas-station owner in Arizona, was shot five times by Frank Roque. While Sodhi died instantly, Roque went on to shoot at other ethnic minorities before going to a local bar and boasting: "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street."

Yesterday, a gunman opened fire on a Sikh congregation in Wisconsin, killing six people in what is now being treated as an act of "domestic terrorism". Some witnesses say the shooter had a tattoo marking the September 11 attacks, though this is not confirmed by the authorities.

While the "war on terror" that followed September 2001 badly affected Muslim families in the west, it is sadly less well-known that Sikhs have also faced significant harassment as a consequence. The Sikh Coalition of Washington said yesterday that Sikhs in the US have faced more than 700 such incidents since 9/11; authorities still do not officially collect data on religious hate crimes against them.

Not all shootings have any rationale. It would have been hard to predict that a man would enter a cinema complex in Aurora, Colorado, and start shooting at random, killing a dozen people inlcuding a six year old child, and wounding 59 more. Nevertheless, it seems remarkable not only that the man could buy the hardware and ammunition he did (thanks to freedoms protected by the National Rifle Association) but that nobody thought to ask him what he had in m mind. As the police chief told the press:

The suspect had legally purchased four weapons in the last 60 days from gun shops, including an assault rifle, a shotgun and two Glock handguns, Oates said. Holmes had also purchased more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition -- 3,000 for the assault rifle, 3,000 for the two handguns and 300 rounds for the shotgun.

“All weapons he possessed, he possessed legally. All clips he possessed, he possessed legally. All ammunition he possessed, he possessed legally,” Oates said.,0,5725827.story

Such shootings are not confined to the United States. Here in Britain, notwithstanding gun control laws, we've had Hungerford and Dunblane. Norway has the crazed Nazi mass murderer Breivik. The Wisconsin temple shootings particularly bring to mind the action of Baruch Goldstein, who as a doctor was presumably familiar with the Hippocratic Oath to save lives, but as a religious Zionist felt it right to enter the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron with an automatic weapon, and murder 29 Muslim worshippers, wounding over 120 more. But Goldstein too was an American, born in Brooklyn, and joined Meir Kahane's Jewish Defence League, before he emigrated to Palestine, and joined Kahane's fascist offshoot, the Kach party.

It may not always be possible to point to an ideological motivation for these murders. I have friends who died of cancer without ever having smoked a cigarette. But enough evidence has been found of a link between smoking and cancer for tobacco advertsing to be restricted, fag packets to carry a government health warning, and pubs to ban smoking. Somehow whenever a right-wing bomber or killer is identified he is always an "ex-member" of racist and fascist organisations, rather as a lung cancer victim may have given up smoking.

Wane Michael Page was known as a white supremacist, and associated with far right parties and the Nazi rock scene. He seemed unable to hold a job. Neighbours found him a little "creepy" . None of this seems to have interfered with his acquiring firearms. But then he had an interesting background.

"Page's stepmother, Laura Page, said it wasn't always that way. She described him as a "normal little boy" and struggled to explain how he came to be a mass murderer with a Facebook picture of him in front of a Nazi swastika.

Laura Page said that joining the military had appeared to be good for her stepson because it "gave him focus".

"Now I greatly question that direction. I don't know if the military was good for him. I don't know. I wish I had some answers. And we're not going to have answers because he's dead," she said.

Some reports have described Page as a "failed" soldier, but he did well enough after joining in 1992 to be assigned to a psychological operations unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Green Berets' birthplace. The psy ops unit is regarded by the Army as exclusive.

But at the time Fort Bragg was also a recruiting centre for white hate groups including the National Alliance, once regarded as one of the most effective such groups and also among the most extreme because it openly glorified Adolf Hitler. The Military Law Review at the time reported that National Alliance flags were openly hung in barracks and, out of uniform, soldiers sported neo-Nazi symbols and played records about killing blacks and Jews.

"White supremacists have a natural attraction to the army," the Military Law Review said. "They often see themselves as warriors, superbly fit and well-trained in survivalist techniques and weapons and poised for the ultimate conflict with various races."

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.

Not only were Page and his politics known, they were studied. Brian Levin, J.D. of the University of California, has interviewed Criminology professor Pete Simi, whose study focused on the Nazi hate bands in southern California. 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,

Here are some extracts from that interview:

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."

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.,b=facebook

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