White heritage religious group takes root in Minnesota

MURDOCK, MINN. – A Nordic heritage group that religious scholars have identified as a white supremacist organization is firmly rooted in this Swift County town.

For $ 45,000, the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) bought an abandoned Lutheran church and created its third “Hof,” or assembly hall, joining others the group operates in California and North Carolina. Organizers said the hall was intended to serve believers throughout the Midwest.

This decision surprised many in this city of 275 people 115 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Word of the deal spread last week after the political blog Bluestem meadow reported it. There has been a lot of talk about the sale on social media, said Brianna Watkins, who lives 4 miles outside of town.

“People don’t like what they hear,” she says. “They call them white supremacists.”

Mayor Craig Kavanagh said he first heard about the church at a city council meeting last week and was trying to find out more about the group.

“I know I have a bunch of people in town who are excited about this,” he said. “People don’t know what to think. Obviously, some expect the worst.

The people of Murdock have nothing to fear, said Allen Turnage, a Florida lawyer who bought the church on behalf of the group and sits on the AFA’s national board of directors.

The organization exists to celebrate the ancient pre-Christian heritage of Nordic worship, he said, comparing it to groups that celebrate ancestral Native American or African cultures.

“We worship our god, we love our history,” Turnage said. “A lot of people seem to make it a calling not to let us practice our faith in our own way.

“You can call us whatever you want, but that doesn’t make us that. “

“Asatru” is an old Norse word meaning roughly “belief in the gods”. It is used by a number of groups, primarily in North America and Europe, who practice a Nordic version of paganism, or pagan religion.

The Asatru movement is young, born in Iceland about 50 years ago, and has tens of thousands of followers around the world.

Not all Asatru groups follow the same credo. The beliefs of the Asatru Folk Assembly, as stated on the group’s website, are explicitly pro-white.

“We at Asatru support strong and healthy white family relationships,” AFA says ethics statement. “We want our children to grow up to be the mothers and fathers of their own white children.

“We believe that these white family friendly activities and behaviors should be encouraged while these destructive white family activities and behaviors should be discouraged.”

A black man who sought to join the group would not be abused, Turnage said, but would be encouraged to look elsewhere for his beliefs.

“We would definitely 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 ‘They expressed interest in learning more about indigenous religious practices.

But the AFA seeks to keep extreme views out of its organization, he added.

“We don’t let everyone in,” Turnage said. “There are some people we have kicked out of membership because they have that rabid look in their eyes and want to cause problems for others. These people are not ours.

Religious scholars who study pagan and pagan religions have identified the AFA as a racist fringe group, said Holli Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary in South Carolina, a seminary for pagan and earthly spiritualities.

“They have white supremacist beliefs,” Emore said. “It’s widely accepted. “

Jennifer Snook, a senior lecturer in sociology at Grinnell College in Iowa who studies paganism, said the group had learned to “disinfect” themselves with positive, non-controversial social media posts.

“They show pictures of rallies, charity food drives and motivational stuff,” she said.

Recent AFA Articles Facebook page showed members repairing the church in Murdock, which needs a lot of work, said Brad Wood, who lives nearby and attended the Lutheran Church before its dissolution.

“The basement would be flooded and there would be bats in it,” he said.

The prospect of a group of white supremacists settling in Swift County is particularly worrying, said Peter Kennedy, a Murdock resident, as the region’s growing immigrant and black population has been well accepted. .

Many Hispanics and Somalis have moved to the region in recent years to work on dairy farms and meat packing plants, he noted.

“We just don’t need that bullshit here,” Kennedy said. “What other religion in the world values ​​the color of your skin?

“Maybe the real face of racism comes to meet us face to face at Murdock.”

Previous versions of this article misinterpreted the Cherry Hill seminar.