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Temple gunman active in O.C. white-power scene, professor says

August 8, 2012 |  5:06 pm

Years before he killed six Sikh worshippers in a Milwaukee suburb, Wade Michael Page was heading to lunch at a favorite pizza parlor in Old Towne Orange, when he froze at the sight of a stained-glass menorah on the door.

“He freaked out. He said, ‘I’m not going in there, I’m not going to open the door,’” said Pete Simi, who was then a graduate student at the University of Nevada and had become acquainted with Page as part of his dissertation research into white-supremacist groups.

“I said, ‘What if I hold the door open for you? Will you walk through so I can eat some pizza?’ He was willing to do that,” Simi recalled. “It’s the principle that anything Jewish is contamination.”

And yet, he said, “he’d eat the pizza made there.”

In an interview Wednesday, Simi, now a criminologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, described his prolonged contact with Page from 2001 to 2003. He said Page lived in an old-style house in Orange’s downtown area, with a housemate who shared his white-supremacist views.

It was an ill-kept home, with food wrappers scattered about and a sink teeming with dirty dishes, and was a gathering spot for white-power advocates.

As part of his research, Simi visited regularly and slept on the couch, hanging out with Page for days at a time. They went together to bars and white-supremacist rock events.

He said Page, an Army veteran, worked only sporadically, drank heavily and frustrated his friends by sponging off them. He played bass guitar in an Orange County-based white-power band, Youngland, which would play at bars and music festivals, Simi said.

“Before he ever got into neo-Nazi stuff, he was a lover of music,” Simi said. “He loved Rush, the band, and he would talk about how much he respected and admired their music.”

He said Page wore a shaved head, Dickies, dark-rimmed glasses and the tattoo of a German soldier on his calf. Simi said that while some white supremacists bristled at the thought of a researcher in their midst, Page “seemed very open about describing his beliefs,” which encompassed virulent anti-Jewish rhetoric, hatred of affirmative action, a distain for multiculturalism and a pronounced misogyny.

“He expressed frustration that more whites weren’t standing up and defending themselves,” Simi said. “He felt music was one way to try to do that.”

He said Page found camaraderie in Orange County’s white-power music scene. “He told me it changed his life.”

Simi remembered that Page kept rifles in his bedroom at the house in Orange.

By Simi’s recollection, however, he expressed no animus toward Sikhs, nor did he give any impression that he was heading toward mass murder.

“I never said, ‘This is the guy,’” Simi said.


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Photo: Peggy Renner-Howell lays flowers at a makeshift memorial near the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Credit: Associated Press