Fayetteville, N.C. — The gunman who opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday, killing six members, tried to join the Ku Klux Klan several years ago while living in Fayetteville, according to a former employer.
Wade Michael Page, 40, was stationed at Fort Bragg for part of his six years in the Army, which ended with a general discharge in 1998. Court records and other documents show he spent much of the time since then in central North Carolina, working at various jobs and playing music in so-called white-power rock bands.
John Tew hired Page to work in the parts department of Cape Fear Harley-Davidson in February 2003. Tew said Tuesday that Page was knowledgeable about motorcycles and was a disciplined worker.
"He was very quiet, kept to himself, was a very efficient worker. He brought some organization to the table," Tew said.
Page had "countless tattoos," including swastikas on his arms, Tew recalled.
"He dressed, in my opinion, just like a neo-Nazi-type person would dress," he said. "We're a motorcycle dealership, and a lot of people have long hair and tattoos and earrings. We understand that, so his body language didn't really bother us that bad."
Page's disrespect toward female supervisors did bother Tew, however, and he said the last straw came in August 2004, when a woman questioned Page about an order.
"He turned around and basically snapped and said, 'You know, I don't work for you,' and he just came unglued and cussed at her real bad," Tew said.
He fired Page on the spot and had him escorted out of the building, only for Page to say he left paperwork inside.
"It was an application to the KKK, and I got that application and destroyed it," Tew said. "He wanted to know where it was, and I said, 'We discarded it.'"
Tew said he never heard Page utter racist remarks, and he never heard anything about him again until Sunday.
Police in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek, Wis., say Page was dressed in tactical gear and carried a 9-millimeter handgun with multiple magazines Sunday morning when he entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and began shooting.
He ambushed the first police officer to respond to the scene, shooting him eight or nine times as the officer attended to another shooting victim, police said. Other officers then exchanged gunfire with Page, killing him.
"It was shocking," Tew said. "Then, after I thought about it, I thought he might have been going down that trail, but you never know about people.
"He was just different. From day one, he was a different person from the last day. He just changed. I don't know what went on. He was always quiet, kept to himself."
Suspect part of white-power groups
Page played in two bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate, that the Anti-Defamation League has said were part of a music scene that caters to white supremacists.
His stepmother said she has no idea how he became involved in such groups.
"He was gentle and kind and loving and a happy person and a happy child," Laura Page said. "What happened? God only knows, because I don't."
Laura Page said she lost contact with Wade Page when she divorced his father about 12 years ago.
Wade Page happened to be at Fort Bragg when the Army discharged nearly two dozen soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division for being neo-Nazi skinheads. The move came after three soldiers killed a black couple in Fayetteville.
Debbie Tanna, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, said local authorities were never told that Page might be involved in any hate group. Shelley Lynch, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Charlotte, said the agency doesn't monitor an individual or group unless there's evidence of criminal behavior.
The worst offense Page had locally was an August 2010 driving while impaired charge that was later dismissed.
"The FBI is examining information that may have come to our attention previously," Lynch said in an email. "Law enforcement is challenged every day to balance the civil liberties of U.S. citizens against the need to investigate activities of possible criminal conduct."
The FBI has said Page acted alone in the rampage, but they haven't determined a motive for the shootings.
Members of the Sikh religion have been the targets of hate crimes more than 700 times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition. The group also has fielded thousands of complaints from Sikhs about workplace discrimination and racial profiling.
With their turbans and long beards, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims or Arabs and have inadvertently become targets of anti-Muslim bias in the United States.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide, including 500,000 in the U.S.
Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair. Male followers often cover their heads with turbans – which are considered sacred – and refrain from shaving their beards.