Reposted from On Black Wings, “What Must Be Done”
On Wednesday a Louisiana resident claiming to be an Asatru black metal musician was arrested for burning three historic Black churches. The perpetrator was a member of several Heathen and Pagan webgroups, some more prominent than others, where he was a regular participant in discussions. He claimed his inspiration was the notorious Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian white nationalist who went to prison for burning several medieval Norwegian churches and murdering fellow black metal artist Euronymous, who also claims to represent the old ways that many Heathen and Norse Pagan practitioners revere. Many groups, including the Troth and the ADF, have rightly denounced his actions and the Facebook group Followers of the old ways, one of the larger online spaces the arsonist was part of, banned him.
So where does this leave us?
The brutal truth is this act is only the latest addition to a bloody, ashen trail of murder and mayhem. Barely a month has passed since the Christchurch killer signed his pre-shooting rant with, “see you all in Valhalla!” and local media have alleged there are connections between him and the Asatru Folk Assembly. Before Christchurch there was the 2015 case of two men arrested in Virginia on charges of plotting a vicious spree of murder and destruction in the name of Asatru whose targets were several Black churches and synagogues. Along with them was the 2012 case of a member of the infamous Wolves of Vinland was arrested in Virginia for attempting to torch a historic Black church. Then of course there was the 2014 Overland Park murderer who shot up a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the name of white power and the Norse Gods.
Every time Heathen groups cried “not in our name!” Yet for all our protests, indignation and denunciation they just don’t stop. No amount of outcry has stemmed this flood of fire and lead. This leaves no doubt that more needs to be done and this must start with asking why these food for Niddhoggr keep invoking our Gods before committing our bloody deeds.
There are, of course, the usual suspects. There is a whole panoply of bigoted, fascist organizations who claim to be coreligionists so they can better spread their candy-coated hatred. The most notorious are the Asatru Folk Assembly, the Odinic Rite, Nordiska Asa-Samfundet, the Nordic Resistance Movement, the Soldiers of Odin and the Communida Odinista de Espana but they are far from the only such groups. There are countless other smaller groups, online spaces and organizations who promote their own brands of Naziism with a Norse Pagan paintjob. Thwarting their works, as organized and widespread as they may seem, is a matter of knowing who they are, giving them no platform and educating our communities.
If it was as simple as locking out the obvious members of the obviously hateful organizations then you would think we’d be in the clear. Unfortunately their operatives are rarely so blatant and the members of less known, equally insidious groups know better than to openly promote their ideas in an obvious fashion. They know that most people tend to react very poorly to someone openly saying, “hey who wants to be part of my jackbooted neo-Nazi Party, start an apocalyptic race war, kill all Jews and stamp on the face of humanity for the next thousand years?”
This is why they resort to a strategy known as entryism. An entryist strategy encourages its practitioners to join larger groups that they think have sympathetic individuals and potential recruits, use more appealing propaganda that plays up themes like heritage, glorious battle, a sense of belonging and “preserving our culture” and take other similarly indirect approaches. When they promote books, videos or articles they often refer to more obscure or less obvious white nationalists like Julius Evola or Stefan Molyneux, use far right sources with a veneer of legitimacy like Breitbart, the Daily Caller and the Daily Mail and effectively slip ideological gateway drugs into the conversation. Natalie Wynn at ContraPoints has an excellent video on the subject showing how insidious and disturbingly effective these tactics are. Regardless of the specifics they work best in spaces that fail to challenge their ideas or material, sending a signal to sympathetic people that what the white nationalists are saying is acceptable.
What makes these sorts so effective are several tendencies existing within our community that make their jobs much easier. One string they like to pluck is exploiting all different manners of denigration by race, sex, religion, gender, sexuality or national origin. They particularly like to exploit bashing of Christians and Muslims as these actions are both more frequent than other examples and less likely to face challenge. Regardless of the specifics any such behavior, whether malicious or seen as nothing more than mild mockery, is inhospitable, unwelcoming to new people and the toxic atmosphere these remarks create will drive good people out along with making fodder for fascists.
Another common thread they pull on is the tired old “Both sides are at fault!” argument which is frequently trotted out in company with “breaking frith!” and “stop causing drama” to silence people who call out bigotry. Along with being generally useless arguments that don’t actually communicate or prove anything they provide excellent cover for white nationalists with an agenda by effectively giving them permission to keep doing what they’re doing. Shutting down opposition to white nationalism, even if you personally disagree with white nationalist beliefs, always makes their work much easier. As much as you and your community may not like dealing with heated arguments it’s better for people to call out these problems than to shut down such arguments and give space to fascism.
They also especially love exploiting the insecurities of lonely people looking for guidance. Many in our broader community are in places or situations where the only contact they receive with other followers of the same form of spirituality is through the Internet. When they find themselves less than welcome in online spaces, for any number of reasons, they are easy prey for white nationalists who are more than eager to exploit their insecurities to pluck up a potential recruit. Things they especially zero in on are newbies who face a less than welcoming reception or people who play at macho posturing to build themselves up. A welcoming, hospitable and genuinely inclusive environment that doesn’t force anyone to be something they are not to fit in is one of the best antidotes for helping reach these vulnerable people before white nationalist recruiters do.
The best, most consistent solution to creeping white nationalism in any Pagan or Heathen group is adopting the tactics of anti-fascism. One central pillar of this approach is giving no platform to fascist, white nationalist or bigoted ideas. What this means is any discussion that promotes or supports these ideas must be banned outright. Some, including white nationalists themselves, claim this simply makes the ideas more taboo and attractive yet there is little evidence supporting this assertion. In fact fascists and white nationalist leaders like Richard Spencer have openly admitted no platforming has decimated their movement’s ability to organize, recruit and promote themselves. Followers of the old ways’ decision to ban the arsonist is an example of these methods in action.
There are many who argue these sorts of confrontational, shut down tactics are counterproductive. They argue what is more effective is building bridges, reaching out to white nationalists and trying to win them over. These strategies have been the bread and butter of many inclusive Heathen organizations for the better part of three decades. Yet in that time bigoted groups have spread their influence, grown in numbers and are now actively encouraging violent deeds. In the years prior to Declaration 127 bigoted groups like the Asatru Folk Assembly went from being concentrated in a few regions to having global reach and influence while others have operated with such impunity that any sort of Norse Paganism and Heathenry is automatically assumed by most to be organized bigotry. As much as proponents of bridge-building would claim otherwise the results speak for themselves and the story they tell isn’t anything worth boasting about.
In stark contrast is the track record of the anti-fascist approach. You could argue the beginnings of this strategy as a real force in Heathenry and Norse Paganism goes back to Circle Ansuz’s work laying out the ugly truths hiding behind Stephen McNallen’s friendly facade. In the wake of their work groups like Heathens United Against Racism, the Svinfylking and many others agitated, educated, applied pressure, engaged in direct action and challenged this bridge-building consensus with a clear, unequivocal rejection of bigotry in Heathenry. In a span of only four years anti-fascists went from challenging an unshakable status quo to ground-breaking united acts for inclusivity like Declaration 127. The media narrative has also shifted, if only slightly, from focusing solely on racists in horned helmets to giving the real, inclusive core of modern practice the attention it deserves. Compared to the bridge-building method, which has enjoyed three decades of failure, anti-fascism brought decisive results in a little over a tenth of the time.
There is much work to be done. Declaration 127 helped turn the tide but it was only a first step. We cannot hope to passively ride out this storm, waiting for someone else to solve the problem for us. Everyone in the Heathen, Norse Pagan and Pagan communities must directly confront this problem, drive it out and ensure that bigoted people and groups have no shelter in our spaces. The alternative is watching an ever-growing tide of hate crimes done in our name rise until those tainted waters swallow us whole, staining our honor beyond all hope of redemption. If we are a community that truly values courage then we must do the hard thing, take a stand for what is right and get to work. The death and destruction that comes from inaction and ineffective action speaks for itself.
Please also kick some money over for repairing the damage done.
Ryan Smith is a Co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism & has been an active Heathen for ten years. He has also been published on Patheos Pagans & Truthout. He is currently writing a book on modern Heathenry. He blogs regularly at On Black Wings.