Professor talks about research study with Oak Creek gunman - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Professor talks about research study with Oak Creek gunman

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As we learn more about what may have happened at a shooting attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek on Sunday morning, we're also learning more about the gunman -- Wade Michael Page.

Pete Simi is a professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He spent more than a decade doing immersion research in the white supremacist community. In 2001, he came across Page.

Page was living in southern California with one of Simi's main contacts. For nearly three years, he visited their home. Simi would often stay there for several days at a time.

Page is referenced in a book Simi co-authored called "White Swastika". His research focused on the effect music has on white supremacists -- something Page was actively involved in at the time.

Simi says Page never really stood out from the other white supremacists he studied.

"There was nothing at the time that I met him where I would have said this guy in particular, more than all the other individuals I was coming in contact with, is definitely on the track to committing an act of violence," says Simi.

Page would talk about violence, but that was something very common among the Neo-Nazis he met.

Page told Simi he began to identify with Neo-Nazism while he was in the military, when he was exposed to Neo-Nazi propaganda. He said he met other active members of the military who were already involved in the white power movement.

Simi says his research found many right wing extremists who were federally convicted for acts of terrorism in the U.S. had military experience. Simi says that though the military doesn't cause extreme beliefs like white supremacy, there is a relationship there without a clear answer as to why.

After 9/11, the two discussed Page's intense anger with the Muslim community. He said in an email that he hoped America would bomb the entire Middle East. Simi says Page never mentioned the Sikh community, but many Sikhs we've talked with in the past few days say they believe Page thought the victims were Muslim.

Simi says personal factors like mental issues could be a trigger that caused Page to snap, but also he says involvement in a white-power group reinforces violent ideals.

Simi says there's a fine line between a white supremacist talking violently and taking action like Sunday's attack. It's a difficult balancing act for authorities, as they search for a possible motive that triggered the shooting.

"No matter how horrendous or reprehensible those things may be, until somebody actually threatens or there's a threat of force or violence we can't open an investigation on them," says Teresa Carlson, special agent in charge with the FBI investigation into the temple shooting.

Simi says we need to support efforts to transform the white-power community. Online networks like Life after Hate help people overcome racist beliefs.

"People do leave these groups, they do transform themselves, they do change their beliefs, their lifestyle, their affiliations," says Simi.

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