Pagans come in many different varieties. The vast majority are not the murderous cult members as seen in “Midsommar”. Many are groovy people who want to enjoy time in nature. Unfortunaltey, there is a small but vocal contingent of hardcore racists. The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA, not to be confused with ‘Anti-Fascist Action’) is a far-right, racist ‘Folk’ organization. The Heathen tradition that Folkish followers claim is one that is deeply contested by anti-racist Pagan adherents who oppose all bigotry, calling all peoples children under Odin, the Allfather (see, for example, the works of Graham Harvey and Michael F. Strimska et al). The Pagan Federation of Ireland, for example, publicly denounced a racist, homophobic solicitation by a US couple, saying in response “Fuck off”. The AFA’s racist stances within the broader spiritual tradition is not a new one and is ultimately a minority within the Heathen community (they have an estimated 700 members), but AFA’s influence and attempts to grow and gain more followers warrants documentation and response nonetheless.
There are many phrases that are often used interchangeably with the Heathen spiritual tradition, including Odinism, Paganism, Heathenry, or Folkish traditions. The modern version of this religious movement focuses on the pre-Christian religious practices of the Early Middle Ages in parts of Europe. There is ultimately a heterodoxy, or major variance, and diverse specifics to the practice of the religion. Adherents, therefore, instead focus on agreements regarding the animistic aspects of older traditions and thereby adopt an often similar cosmology in writing and in practice. In the contemporary, many on the racist and far-right side of the religion term themselves Wotanists (for the neo-Nazi oriented neo-Paganist tradition pioneered in the early 90s by convicted white nationalist terrorists) or Odalists (for the Odal/Othala rune meaning ‘heritage’ and hijacked by the Nazi party and neo-Nazis alike). We will refer to ‘Heathenry’ for the broad and anti-hate spiritual tradition and ‘Folkish’ for the sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic brand. Denunciations of the AFA and other racist heathen organizations are available in multiple places online by several different Pagan organizations. For deep-dives on the AFA, DSRW recommends Talia Lavin’s December 2020 piece for MSNBC, Amudalat Ajasa’s October 2021 reporting for the Guardian, and Shane Burley’s September 2017 deep-dive for Gods & Radicals.
Previous research has shown that the Asatru Folk Assembly often establishes church locations in majority-white or post-industrial communities. Here, their leaders believe they can recruit and find allies in those often dealing with difficult material and psychic conditions. It is within these alienating spaces that the AFA seeks to craft a community of hate.
The hate group is extremely insidious, seeking to normalize white supremacy as part of the religion they push to hijack. Many who adhere to heathen faiths and the diverse variations on the faith are not explicitly racist or otherwise racist through insinuation. The AFA, however, are explicitly racist, creating “whites only” churches and crying about race-mixing. One of the clearest ways they seek to normalize themselves is not only through broad recruitment, but through the creation of physical spaces for their religion. In recent years, they have pushed their racist goals through the creation of new churches.
Now, AFA seeks to establish a new church HQ, their fourth church, aimed at northern Florida. The group claims that this new establishment will serve as a pole for their operations across the Deep South, an area in which the AFA lacks a foothold. The new Florida location is to be headed by a man called Lane Ashby. Ashby, replying to a March 2021 post about “miscegenation” and “filthy mudsharks” in Virginia, said that the Southern state’s motto is intentionally phrased to antagonize racists like himself (see below). Ashby’s misrepresenting/rewriting history is ironic, as the origin of the state motto is from an ad copywriter who originally wrote the tagline “Virginia is for history lovers”.
The northern Florida location is named for the Heathen god of the sea given its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Previous locations have followed similar naming patterns based upon region and terrain. This national push for a southern location would result in four headquarters across the US as indicated in the following map:
In order, these four locations are named after Odin (Northern California), Thor (Ohio), Baldr (Minnesota), and Njord (Florida), sitting neatly at corners around the United States.
Allen Turnage, a Tallahassee bankruptcy lawyer and one of the highest-ranking members of the AFA, appeared in photographs from Ashby as they celebrated the tentative foundation of the new location. Turnage was also allegedly highly involved in the purchase of the group’s third outpost in Minnesota. That Minnesota church was vehemently opposed by the community, who struggled against AFA building use approval. More than 120,000 signatures were collected as part of a petition to stop the church’s foundation. In response, local news platformed Allen Turnage, allowing him to utter one of the bigger mistruths he has uttered in the last year: ‘We don’t hate anybody. This is our religion.’ This phrase was printed even as the organization included it’s whites-only stance and garnered a denunciation from the SPLC.
Matt Flavel, the national leader of the AFA, provided specific updates regarding the northern Florida location in the group’s “October Discussion”. Flavel described the group’s “fourth hof, Njörðshof” as “a big thing we’ve been focusing a lot of our attention on” before moving to thank his white supremacist community, describing them as “extremely generous in donating to and trying to support that effort”. These efforts require many staff hours and financial backing, which Flavel specifically cited in his update. As such, many official AFA transmissions regarding the location specifically mention fundraising, often on a monthly basis. Here’s an example from 3 August 2021 using the 4th location in northern Florida in a fundraising pitch:
Southern activism ahead of this church’s foundation is fairly telling about the attitudes this Florida location is likely to further empower and inspire. Facts About Folkish uncovered the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist posts of several key Folkish members in the South.
First of these is Nathan Cross, of Palatka, Florida. He has posted a slew of bizarre and offensive memes and infographics meant to spread hate. Here is a collage of a few:
While Cross is from the state where the fourth church is set to be established, racist and hateful AFA reach in the South isn’t limited just to Florida. For example, Cross specifically mentions the draconian Texas abortion ban in one of his more recent posts. Another Southern member, Kailey “Folkish Cloud” Worstein of Bay Minette, Alabama, posted iterations of the anti-Semitic “Happy Merchant” caricature (below, left) and weird tradposting images about women’s rights (below, right):
The AFA seems well-embroiled in a thinly-veiled goodwill campaign in the Sunshine State, a tactic that is not at all uncommon for racist and otherwise hateful organizations. Last month, Lane posted images from a “waterways clean-up”. Naturally, members of the AFA showed with prominent logos on their shirts and a freshly-unfolded flag for the requisite photo opportunity that followed their Sunday litter pick-up.
As mentioned before, these types of goodwill campaigns (and the posting blitz that accompanies them) are not unique to the AFA. Here is a short overview of the many groups that used similar tactics:
- South: In 2015, the Georgia KKK tried to “Adopt-a-Highway”, seeking to get their name on a green sign in exchange for picking up litter along the roadway
- US: The Proud Boys have attempted to use “prayer” events to make their events a community religious event, regardless of the location and tone of the event or of its constituent attendees (see for example, 2019, 2020, 2021)
- UK: In 2018, White nationalists associated with Generation Identity were well-documented shoving cameras in front of homeless people in London as they gave them meals for propaganda
- Europe: In 2016, Scottish, English, and Polish neo-Nazi movements were documented using food banks for the hungry to garner support
The Assatru Folk Assembly are another deeply racist group seeking to establish a foothold in the South. Like other racist groups, they use religion as a smokescreen for their racist organizing and engage in shallow goodwill campaigns. We will be following their attempts to establish a base in northern Florida and encourage you to follow reporting from @FactsAboutFolkish.