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Music to Murder By?
Orange County’s underground hate-music scene was fading. Then a Wisconsin killing spree turned the spotlight back on.
The photos don’t portray Orange County at its finest.
In some, you can see Wade Michael Page, his head shorn to stubble and his arms covered with tattoos, churning away on a guitar. Other skinheads stand next to him on stage, their chests and arms a mishmash of inked symbols, including what look to be a swastika and a Confederate flag. One picture is from a gig Page played in 2011, but others date back a decade, to when Page made Orange County—and its fringe hatecore music scene—his home.
It’s chilling to realize that the chunky guitarist in the photo would open fire at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee last August, killing six people and wounding three others before, already wounded by an officer, taking his own life. But it’s more frightening to sense the sweep of time, and the persistent nature of hate and racism captured in those photos.
I first began writing about the hate movement a quarter century ago as a reporter for The Detroit News. Robert E. Miles, a former Klansman and one of the conceptual forces behind the modern white-supremacist movement, lived in Michigan. “Pastor Bob” preached a virulent religion known as Christian Identity in which Jews are seen as Satan’s soldiers, and God supposedly created blacks from mud to serve whites. Miles also once told me he saw himself as something akin to the Johnny Appleseed of white supremacy, sowing the seeds of racism wherever he went. He believed the white race would be preserved through “leaderless resistance”—by lone wolves primed to strike on their own, leaving no conspiratorial trails for prosecutors to follow. And the most fertile grounds, Miles believed, were prisons and the military.
He was right. The hate movement found recruits, such as Army veteran and anti-government zealot Timothy McVeigh, whose 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people and injured more than 800. Page, whose formal education ended with high school, also was an Army vet. He left the military with a “less-than-honorable discharge,” drifted for a while, had and lost a live-in girlfriend, and didn’t stand out among former neighbors and co-workers, according to news stories at the time of the Wisconsin massacre.
The 40-year-old Page left no notes explaining why he loaded a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, grabbed some extra clips of bullets, and headed for the temple. But as Bob Dylan once sang, you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. Miles, who died in 1992, would have been proud of Page’s murders. As apparently were Page’s peers in the Orange County hatecore band Armed and Ready, which posted on its Facebook page: “R.I.P. BROTHER WADE, OUT WITH A WHIMPER OR OUT WITH A BANG, ITS [sic] YOUR CHOICE. MAY HIS FAMILY AND COMRADES STAY STRONG THROUGH THIS ORDEAL.” Other than that Internet shout-out, Page’s act and his death had little impact on his old scene here in Orange County. A spotlight flashed on for a few days, then quickly faded. But the world he inhabited is still here.
Hatecore emerged in the late 1970s as a mutation of the British skinhead movement, with racist punkers carving their own niche with “Oi” music—harsh in tone, played machine fast, with brutal lyrics brutally delivered. It grew in the U.S. primarily through Detroit-area Resistance Records, which eventually was bought by the late William Pierce, leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and author of “The Turner Diaries,” the race-war novel that heavily influenced McVeigh. The band names echoed with aggression. Skrewdriver. Max Resist. RaHoWa, the band of Resistance founder George Burdi, took its name from a shortened reference to racial holy war. And Page’s last band, End Apathy, which built a call to action into its name.
Measuring the movement is difficult. Mark Potok, who monitors hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., says, “These scenes are hard to discern from the outside. They exist, really, in a netherworld that is not visible to the rest of us.”
The Orange County hate-music crowd is a secretive bunch. The band Armed and Ready rebuffed Orange Coast’s request for an interview with a polite, “Thank you for your inquiry, but no one is interested.” Recent local concerts have been produced by Daily Reminder Productions; emails requesting an interview went unanswered.
So concerned are these groups about outsiders gaining access—or protesters targeting concerts—that the gigs are advertised by word of mouth, email, or websites. The date, general location, and scheduled bands are listed with a violent or provocative image and an email address to request more details; those who pass the vetting are given the gig’s location.
These concerts often bring unwanted attention to the places they’re staged. Occasionally, mainstream venues have found themselves hosting hatecore concerts. OC Weekly delighted in outing one at a La Habra Moose lodge in 2002; the show was canceled after the club learned it wouldn’t be the light social gathering it had been told to expect. But other gigs have gone on, such as a 2009 concert booked at the Doll Hut in Anaheim by a young couple who told the manager they wanted to hold a wedding reception. Once the concert started, OC Weekly reported, the bar decided to let it run to avoid a showdown.
While hatecore has a bigger following in Europe these days than in the States, it still has fans in Orange County. It’s a distinctly small community of cross-pollinated bands, which in recent years centered around Martin Cox, who was the lead singer for the O.C. white-power band Youngland when Page joined the group. Cox was one of the more visible faces of that music movement in the 1980s and ’90s, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in documentaries about the movement. The vibrant scene ebbed after Cox left for Idaho about 2009. “He really helped organize a lot of white-power music events while he was in O.C.,” says Mark Pitcavage, investigative research director for the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks the hate movement. “Though not as active as before, it has not gone away.”
A decade ago, Pitcavage says, there were several white-power music events in the county each year, a pace that since has dropped off. A 2010 gathering in Capistrano Beach, Pitcavage says, was partially a fundraiser to help Cox pay medical bills tied to what OC Weekly described as two heart attacks. A flyer for the show, advertised as “Guilty of Being White,” included a photo of Nazis leaders at Nuremberg.
Pete Simi, a University of Nebraska professor who knew Page, pegs the local scene’s decline to the death of neo-Nazi Pierce, which weakened the National Alliance, and, by extension, Resistance Records. With less promotion, there were fewer gigs, fewer sales, and less fuel for the racist fires. Still, Pitcavage says: “I don’t think the Orange County white-power music scene is going to disappear.” He may be right. In what Pitcavage says was likely one of Page’s last visits to Orange County, he played in the bands Definite Hate and 13 Knots (a reference to the number of coils in a noose) at a 2011 concert billed as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
Potok, who edits the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report and its “Hatewatch” blog, agrees with Pitcavage that the lower profile of the local hatecore scene may be deceptive. “Even if it appears to disappear, what has probably happened is that it has gone into smaller clubs or private venues, such as people’s houses.”
Page, right, who grew up in Colorado, the product of a broken home, and was largely an apolitical punk music fan until 1992 when he entered the Army and was drawn to the white supremacist movement, according to Simi, the Nebraska professor and co-author of “American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate.” Simi spent time with Page in Orange County in 2001, and says Page’s racist awakening grew from friendships with white supremacist soldiers and from what he perceived as special treatment of black soldiers in promotions and discipline. “He told me that things were set up, that the deck was stacked against whites, more or less, in the military,” Simi says. The hate movement gave him a structure for processing that. “He said he began to realize that’s how society is in general.”
After Page left the Army in 1998 (he never was deployed overseas), he traveled the country by motorcycle seeking connections in the movement. He met members of Youngland at a hatecore show in Georgia. “That kind of spurred him to want to relocate,” Simi says. Page moved to Orange County, lived with a skinhead roommate, frequented bars in Old Towne Orange, and joined the band. No one suggests that O.C.’s white-power music scene spun Page off to an insane expression of unfathomable hatred. He came here with a belief in white supremacy and a desire to fit in, as odd as that might seem in this ethnic melting pot.
Orange County’s race-shaded past is no secret, from the Ku Klux Klan patrolling the streets of Anaheim in the early 1920s, to the influence of the John Birch Society in the ’50s and ’60s. History may have helped white-power music resonate more widely here than elsewhere. (Washington, D.C., for example, had a thriving hard-core punk scene, but a weak hatecore scene.) As the O.C. punk scene grew in the early ’80s, so did hate music, with the testosterone-powered rage acquiring a layer of racist lyrics.
Page’s murderous rampage in the Wisconsin Sikh temple is abhorrent in the present, but also, for me, chilling for the sweep of modern American history that it represents. We want to see such killings as one-off acts by the crazed. But to believe that requires a certain level of blindness.
Few remember the 1980s campaign by The Order, a white-supremacist gang that committed a series of armed robberies and killed Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg. Or Richard G. Butler’s Idaho compound for the Aryan Nations, a loose collection of racist misfits that was to be the core of the new Aryan homeland. In 1988, I covered part of the sedition trial of 13 leaders of the hate movement, including Miles, the Michigan racist, and Butler, in Fort Smith, Ark. The heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s case was evidence that the defendants had plotted the murders of a federal judge and an FBI agent, and conspired to dump a barrel of cyanide into, as they called it, the “Jew York City” water system. The all-white jury found the government’s case outlandish, and its witnesses too unreliable, to be taken seriously, and acquitted all 13 men, six of whom already were serving lengthy prison terms for other acts of racial violence, including murder. A few months later, one of the jurors was living with one of the defendants.
Miles, the guru of the white-separatist movement, had earlier spent six years in prison for the 1971 firebombing of empty school buses in an attempt to halt the desegregation of Michigan schools. Hewas among the most dangerous men in the ’80s movement not because of the violence he committed himself, which was rare, but because of his disarming personality, grandfatherly looks, communication skills, and his recognition that the best way to spread hate was through education—the same tactic used by those fighting for equality and tolerance.
An oddity of the movement in those days was that even though its adherents believed journalists were doing the work of the “Jewish conspiracy,” some were eager to talk. I interviewed Miles several times over the years. Before the sedition trial, I was back at his 70-acre farm an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit, where he had hosted regular opengatherings that sometimes concluded with cross burnings. We sat at the dining room table, his wife, Dottie, doing household chores nearby. He offered coffee, and as we started the interview, he pointed to the chandelier over the table. Speak clearly,he joked, so the FBI can hear the conversation. We talked about the movement’s goals, which included carving out a whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest. I asked him what first steps he would take should the hate movement win. He would, he said evenly, come for me.
I’ve interviewed others in the movement since then. One, August Kreis, established a compound in rural northwest Pennsylvania in the mid-’90s, where he hosted gatherings and hatecore concerts, and scared the hell out of his neighbors, most of whom were politicalconservatives with their own guns. In an echo of my interview with Miles, we sat at a table in Kreis’ house, a Bible and a loaded handgun between us. Kreis made no overt threats. He explained that while I was using him for a story, he was using me to spread his message.
The hate movement doesn’t talk so much any more. I tried getting in touch with Cox, the man Pitcavage placed at the center of the last surge of O.C. hatecore, for an interview for this article, hoping for his assessment of the local white-power scene. With some creative searching—Cox uses a slightly different name on Facebook—a message got through.
Cox wanted money to talk. “I don’t do media for free. I’m a long-standing person in this scene and I don’t do any interviews without payment. You pay and you get one of the best. That’s all I’m saying. I moved out of the O.C., however I am still connected to the scene because that is my roots.”
I messaged back that I don’t pay for interviews, so I would have to move on.
“Yup. You might be better off,” Cox replied. “I might hurt your feelings anyways.”
Not likely. But when beliefs and actions are beyond defense, maybe we’re all better off not bothering with explanations.
By Scott Martelle
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