Police didn’t take very long to declare the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting on Sunday as 'domestic terrorism'.
My university lecturers will be pleased to know that I recall there have been at least 180 attempts to officially define “terrorism”. So my first reaction to such an announcement was that, broad definition notwithstanding, this was a very particular label to place on this attack.
Later, authorities said tattoos on the body of Wade Michael Page, the alleged shooter, led them to link his attack to terrorism, probably agreeing with the FBI’s definition: “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Which is, without knowing exact motives, where Page’s tattoos and strong links to racist white supremacist groups come in to play. Page had been part of the white power music scene since 2000, playing in several bands that use music as a platform for radical views.
A song by one of his bands, 13 Knots, describes waking up early in the morning, cracking open a beer, hunting ‘queers’, and creating a ‘bloodbath’. Don’t feel compelled to click on the band’s MySpace page. I listen to these things so you don’t have to.
It was through this particular music scene that Wade had links with an Australian band with similar views. Not so long ago, 13 Knots split a vinyl release (yes, vinyl) with an Australian band called Kilgore, distributed by a German label that specialises in neo-Nazi bands.
Kilgore is effectively one guy who also fronts the on-again off-again but mostly off-again Melbourne band Deaths Head that played with 13 Knots while on tour in the US. A Deaths Head song called “Expedition to Coburg” seems to romanticise Nazi Germany rather than the perceived joy of a shopping trip to suburban Melbourne.
Deaths Head is part of the Hammerskins network, an international neo-Nazi group that has an Australian affiliate called the Southern Cross Hammerskins. The group coordinates an annual music festival in Queensland that received attention earlier this year.
The Southern Cross Hammerskins website states that, “For nearly 20 years the S.C.H.S. have been the Australian arm of the HammerSkin Nation (H.S.N.) a worldwide brotherhood. S.C.H.S. are a small but elite group of like-minded individuals who believe in Loyalty, Respect, Trustworthiness, Strength, Commitment & the 14 Words.”
The “14 words” being the work of an imprisoned white supremacist called David Lane: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children."
Which brings us back to Wade Michael Page and his “14 Words” tattoo.
For most members of groups like these (and that probably includes the lads from Deaths Head) their ignorance, fear, and romanticisation of Nazism mostly manifests itself through abrasive guitars and lyrics and drinking beer, posing in front of Confederate flags. It’s a game. A stupid game but still a game.
Then along comes someone like Page who thought his beliefs should extend to walking into a church and shooting unarmed old people and kids. At what point is it no longer a game? That’s what police and law enforcement will be working out right now and something that groups like Hammerskins will want to consider in the aftermath of Wisconsin.