Wisconsin temple killer was neo-Nazi who left army in disgrace

White supremacist gunman's past emerges as families in Wisconsin mourn deaths of six Sikhs
  • @guyadams

The gunman who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin at the weekend was a known white supremacist who played guitar for End Apathy, a white-supremacist rock band whose best-known songs invite fans to “stand proud and raise the white man’s flag.”

"Wade Michael Page was shot dead at the scene by police after wounding an office. Civil rights groups described him as a "frustrated neo-Nazi" who spent six years in the US army during the 1990s. He served part of that time in "psychological operations," but left the military with a Less Than Honourable Discharge, shortly after having been mysteriously demoted from sergeant to specialist.

Photographs of Page, taken from the band's MySpace page, show an overweight balding man of 40, with tattoos covering much of his upper body. One of the tattoos is a tribute to victims of the September 11 bombings, adding to speculation that the massacre was part of a misguided Islamophobic attack.

The FBI has called the incident an "act of domestic terror." According to witnesses, it began shortly after 10am, when the worshippers were starting to arrive at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, a small town just outside Milwaukee, for their regular Sunday service.

The gunman, who was reportedly wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and carrying at legally-purchased 9mm handgun, walked up to a priest standing outside the temple and opened fire. Then he reloaded with a fresh magazine, and moved into the building.

Amardeep Kaleka, whose elderly father Satwant, one of the Temple's priests, was among the victims, said the FBI believe that a vigorous struggle then ensued in its reception area. "They shook my hand a number of times, and put their arm around me, and said "your father's a hero'," he told local TV news.

Forensic evidence shows that Satwant attacked Page with a knife. "He attacked the intruder in the lobby after gunshots were fired. There's a... struggle, and then the evidence shows my father's blood trail going to one area and the shooter's towards the kitchen."

Kaleka added that his father had been wounded and "bled out" before medical help could arrive. Police officers, who arrived shortly afterwards, were then "ambushed" by the shooter, according to a spokesman. One of the officers was seriously injured, but is expected to survive.

A total of seven people were killed, including Page, and three critically injured. Dozens of survivors, including women and children, kept safe by hiding in the building's basement and toilets.

Police have sealed off a small condominium in the suburb of Cudahy which is believed to be the home of the shooter, who reportedly lived with a girlfriend called Misty, and her autistic son.

The Sikh community across America has reacted with sadness to the attack. In the years since 9/11, many of its members have reported being subject to racist threats, and there has been speculation that Page wrongly assumed he was attacking a Mosque.

Although police say they have no evidence that the Oak Creek Temple had been previously targeted, a Wisconsin State Representative, Josh Zepnick, visited in July to discuss what he called "public safety" issues within the Sikh community. A news release he issued immediately after the meeting observed that, in the US, Sikhs are often confused with Muslims.

News of the attack has also sent shockwaves across India, where small protests condemning the violence were reported in several major cities. The country's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, called the incident a "dastardly attack," adding in a statement: "that this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful."

Giani Gurbachan Singh, India's top Sikh cleric, meanwhile called for prayers to be held for the victims, saying that the incident represented "a security lapse on the part of the US government."

Racist violence: another deadly case of mistaken identity?

Dozens of those attacks, most notoriously the murder of an Arizona petrol station owner called Balbir Singh Sodhi in 2001, took place because perpetrators believed their victims to be Muslim. According to a recent Reuters report: "Sikh men have sometimes been confused publicly with Muslims because they wear turbans and their hair and beards uncut."

Ignorance stems partly from the fact that Sikhs are in far more of a minority in America than the UK. Official statistics suggest that the faith boasts roughly half a million followers in each country, meaning that they have a per-capita demographic that is five times larger in Britain than the US.

News of the attack sent shockwaves across India, where protests condemning the violence took place in New Delhi and other cities. India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, called the incident a "dastardly attack".