Cracking Wisconsin Gunman's Secret Racist Tattoo Code

Temple shooter left clues to supremacist ideology on his body.

August 7, 2012, 2:16 PM

August 7, 2012 — -- In his music, on white-supremacist Web sites, and even on the tattoos that marked his body, Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran who was killed Sunday after gunning down six people at a Sikh temple, left behind a startling trail of clues detailing his descent into hate.

Many of the tattoos covering his arms and torso, said Marilyn Mayo, Co-Director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, contained specific racist codes and hidden symbols that showed his allegiance to white supremacist beliefs and to a specific skinhead group. The ADL maintains an on-line database of racist symbols.

"Symbols are an important part of this culture," said Mayo. "It allows others to know you're part of the skinhead movement and is used as a way of intimidation. Getting a tattoo is permanent and it comes with a serious commitment. It means you're a member, you're part of this club and have been initiated."

Page had a tattoo on his right arm below his shoulder with the number "838," which Mayo said is a coded symbol indicating membership in the Hammerskins, a skinhead group whose members have been accused of multiple violent crimes, including murders, since the 1980s.

The number 838 corresponds to the letters H, C, H, an acronym for the group's motto "Hail the Crossed Hammers," a reference to the group's logo.

"The tattoo is indicative of membership in the Hammerskins," said Mayo. "Only a member would have that tattoo." The ADL believes that he was a prospective member as recently as early 2011, but that his membership became official in late 2011.

A former soldier, Page, 41, was demoted from sergeant to specialist before leaving the Army in 1998. His body art would have been banned under Army policies outlawing extremist and racist tattoos. In the years following his discharge, Page posted dozens of photos of himself on-line that show the ink on his body.

On the back of his hands, he had tattooed the letters "W" and "P," which Mayo said is an acronym for White Power.

On his left shoulder appeared a Celtic cross, a cross inscribed inside a circle.

"The Celtic cross is a symbol of white pride and is one of most popular symbols for neo-Nazis and White Supremacists," said Mayo. The ADL's web site, however, also notes that the Celtic cross is widely used in other, non-racist contexts, and that "no one should assume" it is being used as a hate symbol unless accompanied by other "trappings of extremism."

Within the circle on Page's arm was the number 14, which corresponds to the number of words in the supremacist motto: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children"

The motto, something of a white supremacist "battle cry," was written by David Lane, a member of the terror group The Order, while imprisoned in the 1980s.

Soon after his discharge from the Army in 1998, Page attracted the attention of watchdog groups and eventually the FBI, which tracked the comments he left on white-supremacist message boards like and the site associated with the Hammerskins.

The Southern Poverty Law Center determined that in 2000, Page attempted to purchase goods from the neo-Nazi group the National Alliance, described as America's then "most important hate group."

From 2006 to 2010 he was employed as a truck driver and recently was hired at a metal factory in Cudahy, Wis., but seems to have spent much of his time playing with the bands End Apathy, 13 Knots and Definite Hate, or on his computer frequenting white-supremacist web sites.

In 2010, Page gave an interview to Label 56, an independent record company that sells white-supremacist music and issued a disc by End Apathy and Definite Hate.

"The inspiration was based on frustration that we have the potential to accomplish so much more as individuals and a society in whole," Page told Label 56.

From March 2010 to earlier this year, Page posted 250 times on supremacist sites, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a watchdog that monitors extremist activity online.

Many of those posts, written under the screen name Jack Boot or End Apathy, the name of his band, were invitations to white-supremacist gatherings where his band played.

But over time, some posts called for action beyond just complaining on the Internet.

"Stop hiding behind the computer or making excuses," he wrote last year, a chilling foreshadow to Sunday's shooting.

"Passive submission is indirect support to the oppressors. Stand up for yourself and live the 14 words," he wrote in April, referring to the neo-Nazi mantra.

Page entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday morning as members were preparing for prayers and began shooting.

He left six people dead and several wounded, including an Oak Creek, Wis., police officer, before he was shot dead.

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