White Heritage Religious Group Takes Root in Minnesota
A NORDIC heritage church that Jewish pressure groups call a “White supremacist organization” is sinking permanent roots into the Swift County town of Murdock, Minnesota.
For $45,000, the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), who revere the Germanic gods and goddesses of ancient Europe, has bought an abandoned Lutheran church and is creating its third “Hof,” or gathering hall, joining others the group operates in California and North Carolina. Organizers said the hall is intended to serve believers throughout the Midwest.
The move has come as a surprise to many in this town of 275 residents 115 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Word of the deal spread in the past week after the political blog Bluestem Prairie reported it. There’s been a lot of chatter about the sale on social media, said Brianna Watkins, who lives four miles outside town.
Mayor Craig Kavanagh said he first heard about the church at a City Council meeting last week and is trying to learn more about the group.
“I know I’ve got a bunch of people in town worked up about it,” he said. “People don’t know what to think. Obviously, some are expecting the worst.”
Murdock residents have nothing to worry about, said Allen Turnage, a Florida lawyer who bought the church on behalf of the group and serves on the AFA’s national board of directors.
The organization exists to celebrate the ancient, pre-Christian heritage of Europe, he said, likening it to groups that celebrate Native American or African ancestral cultures.
“We worship our God, we love our history,” Turnage said. “A lot of people seem to make an avocation of not letting us practice our faith in our own way. You can call us what you want, but that doesn’t make us that.”
“Asatru” is an old Norse word roughly meaning “belief in the gods.” It’s used by a number of groups, primarily in North America and Europe, that practice a Nordic version of heathenism, or pagan religion.
The Asatru movement is young, starting in Iceland about 50 years ago, and has tens of thousands of followers worldwide.
Not all Asatru groups follow the same creed. The beliefs of the Asatru Folk Assembly, as laid out on the group’s website, are explicitly pro-White.
“We in Asatru support strong, healthy White family relationships,” according to the AFA’s statement of ethics. “We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to White children of their own.
“We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the White family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the White family are to be discouraged.”
A Black man who sought to join the group wouldn’t be mistreated, Turnage said, but would be encouraged to look elsewhere for his beliefs.
“We would certainly talk to him and try to suggest to him that his own ancestors would probably be the place to be,” Turnage said, noting that he and others had received a similar response in the past from Native Americans when, as White people, they had expressed interest in learning more about Native religious practices.
But the AFA seeks to keep extreme views out of its organization, he added.
“We don’t let everybody in,” Turnage said. “There are people we have excluded from membership because they have that rabid look in their eyes and they want to cause trouble for others. Those people are not our people.”
Jennifer Snook, a senior sociology lecturer at Grinnell College in Iowa who studies heathenism, said the group has learned to “sanitize” itself with positive, noncontroversial social media posts.
“They show photos of gatherings, charitable food drives and motivational stuff,” she said.
Recent posts on the AFA’s Facebook page have shown members fixing up the Murdock church, which needs a lot of work, said Brad Wood, who used to attend the Lutheran church before it disbanded and lives nearby.
“The basement would get flooded and there are bats in it,” he said.
The prospect of a European religious group moving into Swift County is “disturbing,” said Murdock resident Peter Kennedy, because the area’s “growing population of immigrants and people of color has been well accepted. Many Hispanic and Somali people have moved to the region in recent years to work for dairy farms and meatpacking plants,” he noted. “We just don’t need this crap out here,” Kennedy said. “What other religion in the world makes a big deal out of the color of your skin? Maybe the real face of racism is coming to meet us face to face in Murdock.”
But many others in the overwhelmingly-White area are content to let the AFA speak for itself. On the AFA Web site, they tell us:
Asatru is an expression of the native, pre-Christian spirituality of Europe. More specifically, it is the religion by which the Ethnic European Folk have traditionally related to the Divine and to the world around them.
From Iceland to Russia, from the frozen north of Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, the Ethnic European Folk wandered and settled over a span of thousands of years. Today, their descendants are spread around the world. We may refer to ourselves as Americans or English, Germans or Canadians, but behind these labels lurks an older, more essential identity. Our forefathers were Angles and Saxons, Lombards and Heruli, Goths and Vikings — and, as sons and daughters of these peoples, we are united by ties of blood and culture undimmed by the centuries.
Asatru is our native religion. It gave our ancestors comfort in millennia past, and it can give us strength and inspiration today. The word “Asatru” comes to us from Old Norse, the tongue of ancient Scandinavia, where it means “those loyal to the Gods.” Since the ancient Scandinavian version of our religion is the best documented, it has given us much of Asatru’s terminology and imagery. The soul of Asatru, however, is not confined to the Scandinavian model, but encapsulates the belief of all the Ethnic European Folk. Indeed, Asatru reflects the deeper religiosity common to virtually all the nations of Europe.
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Source: based on an article at the Star-Tribune, National Vanguard correspondents