White Supremacy and the Wisconsin Shooting Spree

Rather than reflecting on the deathly consequences of white supremacy, rather than look at the burgeoning white nationalist movement, the narrative has already been in overdrive to individualize and contextualize, to describe this rampage as a "senseless act."
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by David Leonard and Richard King

While we learn more hourly about the recent shooting spree targeting Sikhs in Wisconsin, to properly understand it, one must understand white power today, which is no longer about cross burnings and white robes. This is especially important since the media appear ill-equipped, if not unable, to talk about white supremacists.

Rather than reflecting on the deathly consequences of white supremacy, rather than look at the burgeoning white nationalist movement, rather than look at the recruiting efforts from white supremacist organizations within the military, the narrative has already been in overdrive to individualize and contextualize, to describe this murderous rampage as a "senseless act." Yet, as noted by Rinku Sen in Colorlines, these murders "are neither senseless nor random, and the vast majority of such incidents here involve white men. Racism holds a terrible logic, for a concept with no grounding whatsoever in science or morality, yet too many white people don't see any pattern." Equally powerful, Harsha Walia reminds readers to break down the walls between extreme and mainstream, between individual and societal, between civilian and military, to look at this violence not as yet another instance of a bad apple but yet another of the rotten tree(s):

The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism. People of colour face legislated racism from immigration laws to policies governing Indigenous reserves; are discriminated and excluded from equitable access to healthcare, housing, childcare, and education; are disproportionately victims of police killings and child apprehensions; fill the floors of sweatshops and factories; are over-represented in heads counts on poverty rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, and high school dropout rates. Colonialism has and continues to be shaped by the counters of white men's civilizing missions.

To our minds, if this properly projects the arc of media coverage, until the next trauma or panic, we fear we will have lost real occasion to put into dialogue two key elements of Page's biography: he was a white supremacist and he was a veteran.

According to reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Wade Michael Page has a long association with white power. In 2000, he allegedly made purchases from the National Alliance, a once prominent white supremacist groups. He also appears in pictures in front of a Nazi flag.

Several websites have shown pictures of Page's left bicep revealing a "Celtic cross" with the number 14 on top of it. Both are common white power symbols: the former with connections to the Ku Klux Klan, while the latter references the "14 Words," a key phrase coined by David Lane, a founding member of the Aryan inspired terrorist group the Order: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children." It represents the core of contemporary white nationalist ideology, emphasizing the importance of the white race protecting its future, one they believe to be imperiled by multiculturalism, immigration, integration, homosexuality, and globalization. The focus on the family and the protection of progeny underscores the entanglements of race, gender, and sexuality in the white power subculture today.

Page was a member of multiple hate rock groups named End Apathy and Definitive Hate. Its album "Violent Victory" contains a picture of a white hand, tattoo with the letters "HFFH" ("Hammerskins Forever, Forever Hammerskins") punching a black male in the face. According to its website, the Hammerskins is "a leaderless group of men and women who have adopted the White Power Skinhead lifestyle... the Hammerskin brotherhood is way of achieving goals which we have all set for ourselves... summed up with one phrase consisting of 14 words."

While many took comfort in the election of Barack Obama, it, along with the intensification of globalization and worsening economics, has sparked a rise in skinhead, neo-Nazi, and other white supremacists groups in the United States and around the world. According to a report from the SPLC, which has tracked such groups for more than a quarter-century, while more than 1,000 hate groups were identified in 2011, up from roughly 600 in 2000, militia and patriot groups numbered 1,274, up more than 450 from the year before.

We also know that in recent years white supremacists have focused recruitment efforts within the military. While we do not know how the interface between his white supremacist worldview and his military experiences, though apparently his general discharge in 1998 was not related to bias, it would be a mistake not to erase this larger issue. We do know, however, that thinking about the connections between white nationalist groups and the U.S. military, between the mainstream and the extreme, will help us better apprehend the shooting in Wisconsin and more engage their implications more sensibly. "It would be a mistake to dismiss Page was an isolated actor from a lunatic fringe disconnected from the mainstream of U.S. society. In fact, the reality is that white supremacy is a persistent, tragic feature of the American cultural and political landscape," writes Jessie Daniels. "The extreme expressions of white supremacy -- like this shooting, or like some of the violent images and messages previously circulated in print and now online -- are part of a larger problem. White supremacy is woven into the fabric of our society and it kills people." We see this fact in the relationship between white supremacy and the U.S. military.

This is not a new issue, but it one that continues to resurface, often in association with tragic acts of violence. Nearly 25 years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) brought to the attention of the Reagan administration that "active-duty Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC, were participating in paramilitary Ku Klux Klan activities and even stealing military weaponry for Klan use." Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger acted decisively, clarifying for members of the armed forces that involvement with "white supremacy, neo-Nazi and other such groups...[was] utterly incompatible with military service."

White supremacist organizations have been known to target Special Force soldiers as they have been trained in everything from combat demolitions to urban warfare. "Hate groups send their guys into the U.S. military because the U.S. military has the best weapons and training," said T.J. Leyden, who while a member of the Marines recruited his white brethren to join the Hammerskins, a renowned and violent skinhead gang that has been linked to Wade. According to Leyden the military was not just a perfect place to recruit but a perfect space to train fighters for the race war: "Right now, any white supremacist in Iraq is getting live fire, guerilla warfare experience," he concluded. "But any white supremacist in Iraq who's a Green Beret or a Navy SEAL or Marine Recon, he's doing covert stuff that's far above and beyond convoy protection and roadblocks. And if he comes back and decides at some point down the road that it's race war time, all that training and combat experience he's received could easily turn around and bite this country in the ass." Leyden was not alone. Steven Barry, a former Special Forces officer, encouraged members of the National Alliance to enter the Army and request entry into light infantry units:

Light infantry is your branch of choice because the coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow will be very much an infantryman's war. It will be house-to-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood until your town or city is cleared and the alien races are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and 'cleansed. As a professional soldier, my goal is to fill the ranks of the United States Army with skinheads. As street brawlers, you will be useless in the coming race war. As trained infantrymen, you will join the ranks of the Aryan warrior brotherhood.

Given the concerted effort to recruit white soldiers, given the decision of the military to ignore hate-related activities/signs, and given the ways that racism has operated within the history of the military, it should come as no surprise that people like Wade and McVeigh exist.

While the media uses words like deranged to describe Page, they divert attention away from how much he embodies white power today -- its racism, its anger, its subculture, its networks. To date, the coverage we have seen has missed that he exemplifies an operational strategy. Like Tim McVeigh, he is a lone wolf. He blends into society around him and then activates to commit an act of extreme hate and violence.

The shooting in Wisconsin is tragic, even shocking, albeit not surprising given the history of white supremacy, given the look the other way approach from a military in search of bodies, given the violence that has been central to white supremacy throughout history. It marks another dark day for the country, reminding us once more how powerful intolerance and anger continue to be. It is perhaps predictable that a mass killing of South Asian immigrants would be at the hands of an active advocate of white power. While it's comforting to see his actions as that of an "extremist" the seeds of anger, the seeds of racism, and seeds of violence were sown within countless mainstream spaces. And, in light of this history, it is perhaps less surprising that the shooter was a veteran. "Today's white supremacists in the military become tomorrow's domestic terrorists once they're out," noted Scott Barfield, an investigator with the Department of Defense. "There needs to be a tighter focus on intercepting the next Timothy McVeigh before he becomes the next Timothy McVeigh." Or the next Wade Michael Page. We fear that if the military fails after a quarter century of incidents and reports to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists, this will not be the last such attack.

This piece represents the combination of two previously published pieces at Ebony and at New Black Man

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