Wade Michael Page was not a member of the neo-Nazi group Definite Hate when I interviewed the group in North Carolina in 2001. He apparently joined the group later, finding common ground in a universe that embraced a hatred for Jews and other minorities and believed in a world where whites could live apart.
Page, who law enforcement said entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., On August 5 and allegedly opened fire, killing six people before committing suicide, has now become the face of the dark movement of the white power. According to reports, Page, 40, a demobilized army veteran and former truck driver, had for more than a decade played bass in white power bands, including End Apathy and Definite Hate, a band on which I had written a long profile for GQ. in 2001.
When I first heard about Page’s bond with the band, I quickly reread the song. Had he been in the group then? It didn’t seem like it was. To make sure, I found the number for a source in the white music scene, someone I hadn’t spoken to since 2001.
The Hatecore community is not that big. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that there are only around 140 hate groups in the United States today. Sure enough, the source had met the shooter.
“Wade Page, when I met him, was a nice guy,” he said, as if we were talking about a parent in the playground. “He was a musician who more or less fulfilled. I don’t think he was in [Definite Hate] for any length of time.
The source, who said he feared for his safety and did not want his name published in the newspaper, did she agree with what Page did?
“I don’t,” he said. “It accomplished absolutely nothing and he lost his life with it.”
Years ago, the white supremacist movement embraced hate rock as a means of spreading its extremist message. And in the world of white thrash, Resistance Records was king. The label was run by the National Alliance, the separatist organization founded by William Pierce, whose work would later inspire Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Pierce had a doctorate in physics and was not interested in punk rock. But he believed in the power of hate.
“Imagine what we could do with those millions of aimless white youth if we had MTV,” he said at a National Alliance meeting in 1998.
In the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting, media reports on the white power movement speak of the difficulty in seeing such groups perform. The Los Angeles Times described a process in which people are screened over the phone, invited to meet at a gas station, and then met by menacingly tattooed tall chaperones.
In 2001, going to see Definite Hate was relatively easy. I called Resistance Records and told them that I was looking for a young and promising band on the label. Not long after, I had been invited to North Carolina to meet the group, watch them parade at a Confederate Memorial Day gathering, and finally go to a place called Ossipee Ski Lodge and watch them play a show.
For me, a Jewish kid from Brookline with an English degree from Tufts, going to the woods of North Carolina to hang out with a band whose debut album included an ode to having the “[expletive] Jews are Burning Again ”was like a cultural anthropology trip to the moon.
The group was late for the rally, which included a short march and around 50 separatists cheering on a guy from an organization led by Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Duke. When Definite Hate finally arrived, we met and shook hands. At first glance, they didn’t seem so threatening.
The singer, Josh, was 23, was thin as a razor and was uncomfortable posing for a photo without a Confederate flag handkerchief partially covering his face. Dave, the bassist, had short hair, tattoos and wore a white polo shirt. They jumped into their car to make the short trip to the “lodge,” which was a cinder block building with an outdoor patio for the group to play in. Could have been any other dive in the country without the scenery. Inside the lodge, a noose hung from the ceiling around a black woman’s mask.
The Definite Hate concert organizers told me to make sure everyone I came with had as “fair” skin as possible.
GQ sent Plato, the British-born photographer who is half Greek and has an olive complexion. A master portrait painter who photographed Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Matt Damon and Prince, Plato traveled to the woods of North Carolina. He had brought an extremely nervous Jewish assistant.
Plato knew what he wanted, especially since he was collecting photographs for his first book. He led the children into a dark garage with a concrete floor and tin walls. He set up all his fancy gear, then he pissed them off.
“Show me your rage,” he cried with his British accent.
They groaned. They flexed the muscles. They raised their arms in a Nazi salute.
He got some great shots. And then he left. But the beer kept flowing, and by the end of the afternoon some of the onlookers started turning on me. One of them grabbed my tape recorder and stuck it in front of my face.
“Tell me your inheritance,” he shouted. Another shouted: “You are a [expletive] Jewish! Of [expletive] ADL! “
I had made up a cover story (I told them I was Protestant, non-practitioner) and tried to remember that this rage was probably partly for the show. I kept my cool. Get any group of humans together, give them a mind-altering substance, and group thinking sets in. The same goes for bravado and the feeling of invincibility.
And that’s why I stayed that night.
I could have taken off, gone home and had a really good story about this menacing subculture. But Josh, the singer, told me that I could come visit him at his apartment the next morning.
It was an indescribable and well maintained resort. Josh shared the rent of $ 500 per month with Dave.
Inside, I found residue of white hate – Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on the shelf next to Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” – but overall the apartment was no different from the place where any 23 year old lives in a filthy, nowhere city could rent.
While I was speaking with Josh, he described a kind of one-size-fits-all philosophy of the white power movement (“We want our own land. As the Jews want their own land…”). We also talked about her hopes to go to a community college and get married. We talked about having kids one day.
Away from the crowd, Josh was a lot less extreme than he had looked the day before. Then he talked about being on stage. Of the feeling he got when he looked outside and people sang along with him. They knew his music.
“My biggest peak is when I’m on stage and performing,” he said.
It was, for me, the best way to end the visit and the history of GQ. I had played in bands in high school and I remembered that feeling. And even though the songs weren’t the same, I could understand what it was like to stand in front of a crowd and be heard.
Geoff Edgers can be contacted at [email protected]
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