Racism Comes In Many Disguises - by Reed Anifnson - Publisher
‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Last December, the small-town Murdock City Council in Swift County voted 3 to 1 to allow the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) use of the abandoned church they had purchased. It was a controversial decision but one that recognized the First Amendment rights of the AFA members to worship as they pleased.
The council voted correctly to allow the ASA use of the church. However, that approval was not a “welcome to the community” gesture.
While the First Amendment protects speech and religion found at the extremes of society, it by no means requires passive acceptance. Citizens have the right to push back against worship and speech that are inherently racist or bigoted. Racism is at the heart of the AFA religion.
“Asatru” is an ancient Norse word. Its pagan roots are in a “belief in the gods” worshiped by Scandinavians before Christianity. In America, the AFA’s first hof, or meeting place, was founded in Brownsville, California, in 2019. It then added hofs in North Carolina and Minnesota. Based on the number of abandoned rural and small-town churches in the state, they could have landed just about anywhere. They chose Murdock.
Members say they base their spirituality on preserving what they see as the dying cultures among the western Europeans who settled in America.
“The Asatru Folk Assembly is the largest neo-Volkisch hate group in the United States,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center is an organization whose focus is highlighting and ending discrimination. “While some neo-Völkisch groups attempt to cloak their ethnic exclusivity in claims centering on the victimization of white people, other groups overtly promote racial supremacy,” it says.
While the AFA says it isn’t racist, its words call those denials into question. “In these mixed-up times, it is important to remember not only that it is okay to be white but also that we owe to our descendants the same sturdy roots from which we ourselves have grown,” the AFA stated in a 2017 Instagram post.
“We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships. We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own,” its website states.
To challenge the AFA coming to their community, a group of area residents formed the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate (MAAAH.) One of its members is second-year law student Victoria Guillemard. She is actively working to tear down the façade she sees the group’s priest Jason Plourde trying to build around the AFA’s core beliefs.
Unhappy with Guillemard’s own missionary work on the part of those in the community opposed to the ASA, Plourde sought a petition for a harassment restraining order against her. He claimed he was unfairly targeted because of his faith. He also felt his character was under attack. However, last week 8th Judicial District Court Judge Stephanie Beckman decisively ruled against Plourde.
There was no evidence that Guillemard “engaged in harassing conduct or that her speech rises to the level of harassment,” Beckman ruled. “Rather, the views of (Plourde) and his organization are the target and focus of [Guillemard] and MAAAH.” Further, she pointed out that Guillemard neither attacked Plourde personally nor directly interacted with him.
Guillemard says she has been exercising her free speech rights. “This was Jason trying to intimidate members of a community he’s trying to charm,” she told John Reinan of the Star Tribune. That intimidation comes in the form of threats of legal action against those who criticize the Asatru Folk Assembly or Plourde.
“The important part of all this is recognizing that the AFA made a promise to the Murdock City Council,” Guillemard told Reinan. “Church leaders told the council ‘the AFA just wanted to be good neighbors.’ I do not believe that good neighbors try to intimidate people out of exercising their rights with frivolous lawsuits.”
As the ASA members renovate the church in preparation for their first service, they have been trying to ease worries in the community about their beliefs.
While we may be offended by someone’s religion, in most cases, they have the right to worship as they please under the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” it states.
If you put limits on one religion, it opens the doors to singling out others without mainstream support. While we may not agree with the practices of those whose beliefs differ from ours, we must support their right to do so. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the right, or at times, the obligation to vigorously question their practices.
“There are young children of color across the street from the church,” Guillemard told Minnesota Public Radio in October.
Rural Minnesota was likely thought to be an ideal landing place for the ASA because of its mostly white population and conservative politics. However, they didn’t count on how welcoming our communities have become to the new immigrants who own businesses on main street, work on our farms, and in our industries. They shop at our stores, attend our churches, participate in our local governments, and their children are in our schools.
Rural Minnesota was settled by western Europeans in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but our future lies with the immigrants from Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. It is a future some in our communities find unacceptable. The ASA provides comfort to their prejudice.
Guillemard hasn’t rested in the days since the Murdock council’s vote in her fight against what she sees as a “hateful ideology.” She has actively worked to inform the community about the beliefs that lie at the heart of its religion. She represents the best at the heart of rural Minnesota.