A white-only religious group just got the green light to open a store in the Midwest

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Register here.

A white-only religious sect hopes to expand its presence in the Midwest and has decided that a small farming community with a population of 292 is the right place to do so.

On Wednesday, the city council of Murdock, Minn., located about 185 miles from Minneapolis, voted 3 to 1 in favor of granting the Asatru Folk Assembly a permit to use a former Lutheran church as a venue for worship. The group bought the abandoned church for $45,000 earlier this yearreported the Star Tribune.

Asatru Folk Assembly says it is a religion drawn from pre-Christian European spiritual traditions, and is registered as 501(c)(3) nonprofit religious organization. Their main messages of ethnic purity and white nationalism are barely masked by terms such as “heritage preservation” and “European ethnicity”. They insist they are not racist, but explicitly state that maintaining whiteness is a guiding principle.

“We at Asatru support strong and healthy white family relationships,” they write in their ethics statement. “We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers of white children.”

Asatru Folk Assembly’s plans for the 99% white town of Murdock have sparked a backlash in the small community, the Star Tribune reported. After the group bought the church, the locals formed one of their own, “Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate”. A group of protesters gathered near the church on Wednesday ahead of the city council vote, which took place virtually via Zoom.

The Mayor of Murdock began the meeting by reading a statement on behalf of the city condemning racism in all its forms, Minneapolis Public Radio reported.

“Yesterday was a devastating and difficult day for Murdock,” Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate later posted on Facebook. “Residents no longer feel safe with the presence of the Asatru Folk Assembly in their community.”

About 50 local protesters – about a fifth of the city’s population – also showed up at a public hearing outside the city council on October 14 to voice their opposition to the Asatru People’s Assembly.

At this October meeting, Allen Turnage, board member of the Asatru Folk Assembly and attorney from Florida, answered questions from community members. He said black people are not allowed to join the group “because they are not of northern European descent”, the The tribune reported.

The Asatru Folk Assembly claims to have communities in at least 16 states, plus Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Italy and Norway. According to their website, it currently has two “hofs” – meaning meeting rooms – in the United States, one in California and the other in North Carolina. They acquired the church in Linden, North Carolina in April of this year. If the Murdock City Council votes to allow the Asatru People’s Assembly to use the church as a place of worship, the small Minneapolis community will become its third hof.

The group was formed in 1994 in Grass Valley, California by Stephen McNallen, a leading figure in the modern pagan movement. While Asatru is a long and complicated religious tradition which is not racist per se, its application in modern america focused on ideas of white racial purity. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated the Asatru Folk Assembly as a hate group, stating that it fell under the category of “Neo-Volkishthat co-opt existing spiritual traditions and turn them into vehicles to promote white supremacy or pro-white conspiracy theories.

“Today’s folkloric adherents also express their bigotry in baseless claims of lineages grounding the superiority of their white identity,” said the SPLC written. “At the crossroads of hypermasculinity and ethnocentrism, this movement seeks to defend itself against unfounded threats of extermination of white people and their children.”

Last December, the National Guard expelled two of his own after Atlanta anti-fascists denounced them as adherents of the Asatru Folk Assembly who had attended an event organized by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Asatru Folk Assembly did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Editor’s Note 10/12/2020 10:09 AM ET: This story was updated after the City Council vote.