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Shooter Was On Radar For Years, Expert Says


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We'd like to take a moment to think more deeply about what seems like a barrage of mass shootings this year alone.

In May, a belligerent man in Seattle shot up a cafe, killing five people after he was denied service. Nearly three weeks ago, 12 people were killed and close to 60 people were wounded in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. This past Sunday, six people died in Wisconsin after being gunned down in a Sikh temple.

It's also noteworthy that Jared Loughner, who's charged with the shooting that killed six people and seriously wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, pleaded guilty to 49 counts of murder and attempted murder yesterday.

In a moment we'll talk with a noted psychiatrist and researcher who's done extensive work on preventing violence and dealing with the aftermath of violence, Dr. Carl Bell.

But first, we want to talk more about the political leanings that may have played a role in Sunday's Sikh temple shooting. Here's what we know about the shooter, Wade Michael Page, so far. We know he served in the military in 1992 in the Army and was given a general discharge in 1998. A general discharge is something below an honorable discharge, but at this time we don't know why he was discharged. Reports cite conduct issues, such as drinking and being absent without leave. And we want to note that military sources say the conduct problems leading to his discharge did not have anything to do with bias or white supremacy.

But after his military service, we know that Wade Michael Page was a member of various skinhead bands like the Hammerskins. That's a white supremacist group that makes so-called white power rock. And Wade Michael Page has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center's radar for some time now. They noted his involvement with the white supremacist groups going back 10 years.

We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called upon Mark Potok. He's a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. That group, among other things, tries to document the activities of extremist groups.

Mark Potok, thanks so much for joining us.

MARK POTOK: Well, a real pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, you note that Wade Michael Page has been part of the white power music scene since the year 2000. He was a member of two skinhead bands that we know of, End Apathy and Definite Hate. Can you tell us a little bit about either of these groups?

POTOK: Well, yeah. I mean, first of all, as you said, he really kind of embarked into this world of white supremacist music in 2000. He initially played with a number of very well-known groups on the scene as both a guitarist and a vocalist. In 2005, he started the band that really was mainly his own project, called End Apathy. And, you know, I think that's important because what the name seems to mean, and he, in fact, gave an interview talking about that name.

What he said, speaking to a particular white supremacist site a few years ago, was, you know, he was trying to end apathy in the white supremacist world. In other words, while he wasn't quite explicit about it, what he was saying, in effect, was these organizations, these people in the white power world, basically sit around, talk a lot and don't do anything. It's time to end this inaction, to move forward, to do something. So, you know, my own opinion is, essentially, he took his own advice.

MARTIN: What role do these white power rock bands play in the white supremacist movement? I mean, because they might be well-known within the movement, but I'm not sure they're well-known outside of it. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

POTOK: White supremacist music is probably the number one revenue earner for these groups. Resistance Record, a neo-Nazi distributor of this music, about 10 years ago, I know for a fact, was bringing in about six or seven hundred thousand dollars a year, so that's serious money in this world.

The other thing that is so important about this music scene is that it has proven over the last 15 or 20 years to be the number one factor in bringing young people into the movement. It's been very effective, as it turns out, in bringing people who really knew nothing about the white supremacist world - might not have been interested, initially - into that world.

MARTIN: We mentioned that Wade Michael Page has been on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center for some time. Why so? And what does that mean when we say that you've been keeping tabs on him?

POTOK: We try, in quite a lot of detail, to keep tabs on the entire white supremacist world, along with a number of other hate groups that aren't necessarily white. We, for instance, every year draw up lists of active hate groups and name them. We publish lists of these groups. Where are they? What are their ideologies? You know, what type of group are they? A neo-Nazi group, a skinhead group, a Klanhead group, that kind of thing.

Wade Michael Page, for us, was simply a new guy who appeared on the white supremacist music scene, so we'd been following him ever since. Now, I don't mean to suggest that we've had some, you know, big operation following this one man. The truth is, is that there are thousands and thousands of people who look an awful lot like Wade Michael Page looked until the Sunday shootings.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, to our knowledge, at the point that we are now speaking, there has not been a note found, there has not been any declaration found of his specific intentions. From what you know, what was he all about? What was his intention in joining these groups? What was his mindset in his participation in these groups? Can you just help us with that?

POTOK: Sure. I mean I think that people in this world, by and large, have swallowed the idea that white people - particularly in the United States, but worldwide - are under siege. They are fond of saying that white people - or they'll sometimes describe them as, you know, the Aryan race - is being subjected to a genocide by evil multiculturalists and so on. Whites are being destroyed by racial mixing, by immigration and on and on.

So I think that's ultimately the motivation, and of course we now know from other people's reporting that he'd lost a house to the bank, and then not long after that - in fact, quite recently - lost his girlfriend as well. So I think those are the kinds of life events that help to propel a person who is thinking these kinds of thoughts anyway into action.

MARTIN: Mark Potok is a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we spoke with him at his office in Montgomery, Alabama. Mark Potok, thanks so much for speaking with us.

POTOK: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: As we said, authorities are still trying to figure out exactly what motivated gunman Wade Michael Page, who killed six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday. The FBI announced in a Wednesday press conference that Page fatally shot himself after police returned fire and shot him outside the temple. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.