Wade Michael Page’s neighbours are largely of one view about the man who shot dead six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday.
“I stayed away from him,” said Char Brown, who lived in the same building and said she endured him playing loud rock music late into the night.
Another neighbour, Jennifer Dunn, a psychiatric nurse, said she regarded Page as “creepy” in part because he would not look her in the eye. Dunn too complained about the music and said that the night before the attack on the Sikh temple it seemed particularly loud.
FBI investigators will be looking into what it was Page was listening to in the hours before the massacre and whether it shaped his state of mind given he played in two white power bands that performed with lyrics urging racial domination.
The bands – Definite Hate and End Apathy – came to be an important part of Page’s life after a failed army career, dismissal from a series of jobs and a rocky relationship with a girlfriend who left him earlier this year.
Char Brown’s husband, David, called Page “very standoffish” and “not real friendly”. He said he rarely saw Page emerge from his flat other than to go out with an instrument case on his back.
But 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.
Page did well enough after joining in 1992 to be assigned to a psychological operations unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The unit is regarded in the US military 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.”
In 1995, two soldiers with the 82nd Airborne murdered a black couple in Fayetteville, the city neighbouring Fort Bragg, in a racially motivated attack.
Others serving at the base during the 1990s were arrested for hoarding ammunition in preparation for an attack on businesses, including media organisations, owned by African Americans and Jews. Soldiers were also arrested as members of skinhead gangs involved in assaults.
Chris Robillard described Page as his “closest friend” in the military. He told CNN that Page was “a very kind, very smart individual” but even then had taken up the white supremacist cudgel.
“He would often mention the racial holy war that was coming,” he said. “We just looked at it like he was trying to get attention to himself because he was always the vulnerable type of person. Even in a group of people he would be off alone.”
Another former colleague in the psychological operations unit, Fred Allen Lucas, said that Page called him a “race traitor” for dating Latina women and took to calling other races “dirt people”.
“It didn’t matter if they were black, Indian, Native American, Latin – he hated them all,” Lucas told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
He said that among Page’s tattoos was one that repeated a mantra popular among white supremacists: we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. Because the sentence has 14 words, some white supremacists wear tattoos and clothing with the number as a code. Page had the number 14 tattooed on his left shoulder.
By the time Page’s contract with the army was complete in 1998 he had a poor enough record, marred by drunkenness and failing to report for duty, that the military did not permit him to re-enlist. He had already been demoted from sergeant.
After the army, Page drifted between jobs, including a motorbike parts dealership before he was sacked in part because he did not like taking orders from a woman, and then as a lorry driver. But mostly he focussed on playing in white power bands.
Sometimes he performed with a Nazi swastika hanging behind the drummer. His first band, Definite Hate, produced an album called Violent Victory with a cover design of a white fist punching a black man in the face.
The fist is tattooed with the letters HFFH for “Hammerskins Forever, Forever Hammerskins” after a national skinhead organisation.
The Site Monitoring Service, which tracks white supremacist groups, said Page appeared regularly on various white power websites including Stormfront and Hammerskin. He signed off on at least one occasion with “88”, used by Nazi sympathisers to mean “Heil Hitler” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Definite Hate’s songs included lines such as: “Wake up, white man, for your race, and your land”.
Page told Label 56, a record company that distributed his band’s albums and sold Definite Hate T-shirts, that he founded his second group, End Apathy, to wake people up.
“A lot of what I realised at the time was that if we could figure out how to end people’s apathetic ways it would be the start toward moving forward,” Page is quoted as saying. “Of course after that it requires discipline, strict discipline, to stay the course in our sick society.”
After the Oak Creek shooting, Label 56 issued a statement distancing itself from Page.
“We have never sought attention by using “shock value” symbols and ideology that are generally labeled as such. With that being said, all images and products related to End Apathy have been removed from our site. We do not wish to profit from this tragedy financially or with publicity,” it said. “In closing please do not take what Wade [Page] did as honorable or respectable and please do not think we are all like that.”
But the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, lists Label 56 as a “hate site” because of its promotion of racist bands such as Children of the Reich and Stormtroop 16.
While the local police and FBI said that Page was not on their radar because he had not committed any crimes, he came to the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center a decade ago. It describes Page as a “frustrated neo-Nazi”.