To the dismay of many residents of Linden, North Carolina, a white supremacist group now owns a building that had served as a Methodist Church for almost 150 years. The Asatru Folk Assembly, a pagan group that strives to preserve “Ethnic European Folk,” established a hof, or meeting hall, in what was formerly Parker’s Grove United Methodist Church. Town officials say they’ve received complaints from concerned citizens but can’t control who buys property.
Asatru, which has about 500 members throughout the United States, also owns buildings in Brownsville, California, and Murdock, Minnesota.
Ethnocentrism Wrapped in Norse Mythology
According to its website, Asatru “is an expression of the native, pre-Christian spirituality of Europe.” The Florida-based group clarifies that “by Ethnic European Folk we mean white people.” Families are key, it states, because “we want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Asatru “the largest neo-Volkisch hate group” in America, saying it touts conspiracy theories about white genocide. Though the group isn’t known for violence, it has a “warrior principle” urging defense of its beliefs and adherents. In 2015, the FBI stopped a plot by two Asatru associates who reportedly planned to attack Jewish synagogues and Black churches.
Like many other extremist groups, Asatru uses social media to share its ideology. Experts say such groups tend to locate in traditionally white communities in hopes of recruiting members.
Asatru insists it’s just another religion. “We think our faith is worthy of honor and respect like anyone else’s,” says national board member Allen Turnage. The group doesn’t admit Black people, he adds, because “they’re not of northern European descent.”
Karsonya Wise Whitehead, a professor of African-American studies, warns about the motives of such groups. “The explanation that ‘we want to engage in and protect our heritage’—that’s just an update on language that was used to set up Jim Crow,” she says.
Town Officials Say Their Hands Are Tied
Linden Mayor Frances Collier says it was “heartbreaking” when the church closed to merge with a nearby congregation. Five generations of her family had worshiped at Parker’s Grove, and church leaders “still haven’t come to terms” with the building’s new use, she says. But “there’s nothing really the town could do because [Asatru] bought the property.”
Residents report seeing small groups of people gathering at the site, usually on Saturdays. Although one tells a reporter he’s not worried because the group is quiet, others say they’re alarmed to be a home base for people with such extreme beliefs.
Craig Kavanagh, mayor of Murdock, Minnesota, says his town was in a similar bind. Because of legal protections for religious groups, leaders felt they had no choice but to approve zoning for Asatru’s permit request. Members of town council, who voted on the measure anonymously, said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show that the group wasn’t a legitimate religion.
Legal experts say governments can argue that they want to prevent racial discrimination but admit that’s an uphill battle.