[The following is a guest post from Ryan Smith. He is one of the co-founders of Heathens United Against Racism and a graduate student studying modern history. He practices with his kindred in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been a Heathen for seven years and a Pagan for seventeen.]
In Pagan and Heathen communities, topics related to discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are often uncomfortably avoided with a telling silence and knowing glance. After all, as goes the common narrative, we are, as a community, accepting of everyone. We welcome people of different walks of life, religion, perspectives, Gods, and forms of worship so how could racism possibly be a problem?
Heathenry in particular has something of a dubious reputation on this subject; one that has been made worse by the refusal of many Heathens to even discuss it in any way. The continued quiet emanating from active Heathen organizations in the United States and Canada is made even more stark by the statement issued by Asatruarfelagid of Iceland in response to a recent split within the Danish national organization between proponents and opponents of Stephen McNallen’s theories on spirituality and genetics..
The refusal to discuss this subject is fed by many hands, which all flourish on a combination of growing up in American society and all that goes with it; the desire to not rock the boat; the perception that a lack of visible tension is the same thing as peace; the continued failure on the part of institutional American Heathenry to confront the problem in a decisive fashion; and the cold hard fact that, at the core of the racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, is an organized, cohesive movement, which thrives off these cancers. Only when this problem is shoved in the collective face of Heathenry does any discussion happen, much of which is then greeted with the common urgings to “show respect,” “not tear people down,”and “stop being so negative.”
The recent case of Norsewind is one such instance. On Aug. 23, Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day released a statement regarding a change to the event schedule for that day. Norsewind was removed from the lineup. As it clearly states, Philly PPD was ensuring the mission of Pagan Pride Day was honored, and the safety of the patrons was not endangered. As would be revealed Aug. 29, this decision was based on information provided by Philadelphia Antifa who uncovered evidence leader singer Danjul Norse and his band were closely connected to Keystone United. Philly PPD organizers have informed me, as they did The Wild Hunt, that they stands by the decision and will be making no further statements on this subject.For those unfamiliar Keystone United, it is hardly what one could describe as an innocent cultural group or anything similar. Formerly known as the Keystone State Skinheads, Keystone United is the largest single-state racist skinhead crew currently in the United States of America. With branches throughout Pennsylvania and ties to other white nationalist groups like the Vinland Social Club, Hammerskin Nation, Blood and Honour, and the National Alliance, Keystone United is easily one of the most notorious organized hate groups with a history of violent activity ranging from assaults to murder. There is little question from its activities and official website that Keystone United is a dangerous racist organization..
In the information presented by Philadelphia Antifa on Tumblr, a number of specific charges were made. During an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul claimed to have performed only two paying gigs for Keystone United. Antifa found this video from a Keystone United gathering in 2009 clearly showing Danjul Norse in attendance marching with them and holding a Norwegian flag (0:32-0:46).
According to Daryle Lamont Jenkins of One People’s Project, “As far as we and Philly Antifa were aware Norsewind was a mainstream Pagan band.” The discovery of this video was, while surprising, not sufficient enough to claim Norsewind had any real connection to or sympathy for racist skinhead ideology. Antifa did not act until further photos surfaced of Danjul wearing a T-shirt from Keystone United’s 2013 Leif Erikson festival, which prompted further investigation. Those further investigations, according to Daryle, uncovered Norsewind had not only played for two private KSS parties but also at the funerals of KSS members. According to Danjul from his interview with the Wild Hunt:
It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a barbecue and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.
As to his views and his music Danjul Norse told the Wild Hunt:
Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them toward something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.
When I contacted him, he further added:
The band performs music based off our love for history and culture in Europe and North America, as well as other places around the world. We write and love folk songs that sing of ancestors and bravery as well as traditions that our early settlements and tribe’s have sung about in early scripts. We have chosen this path of art so that we may portray a positive message as well as a non-judging stance as a band…..which is why we play pretty much anywhere we are respected!!!
On the surface one would think that claims of being nonjudgmental, accepting, and totally not racist would fly. After all Philly Antifa did concede there was nothing in Norsewind’s body of work that is overtly racist. Many are asking what is the problem with a band with an established history and connections with a gang of violent racists playing at Pagan Pride Day when they themselves claim not to be bigots?
To understand what is going on here requires some brief explanations of neo-Nazi organizing tactics and philosophy. One key concept at work is what is known as metapolitics. As defined by white nationalist distributor Counter Currents Publishing, metapolitics is the practice of bringing about social change by using nonpolitical means to establish a new dominant cultural frame, also referred to as cultural hegemony. The intent is not to challenge people’s politics but to find other ways to win them over through means like music, art and events organized under the banners of cultural preservation and tradition.
Stripping away the philosophical meandering, the result of this strategy is a pattern of deliberate obfuscation, misrepresentation and deception. People, for perfectly understandable reasons, would want nothing to do with a group openly advocating for the establishment of a fascist, jackbooted dictatorship. This is where metapolitics comes into play. An example is the concept of apple pie words, such as the substitution of terms like “racial supremacy” with more innocent ones like “identity” or “culture,” to conceal true intent and win over the unwary. The BNP, KKK, and other white nationalists are not alone in using this approach, as can be seen in the three tiers strategy of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany who focus on cultural, community and electoral activism. This is the reason many white nationalists will claim they are totally not political. They just want to hang out with people who share the same race-based culture and who also happen to think Jim Crow was a good idea and the Holocaust was a hoax,.
Along with metapolitical tactics is another approach used by white nationalists known as the Bob Whitaker mantra, a pithy rebuttal that is essentially a crude, ham-fisted attempt at political judo used to deflect accusations of racism and bigotry. This, like the deceptions used in metapolitics, is rooted in very ruthlessly practical concerns. Just as most people would have nothing to do with a person seriously proposing we all put on jackboots and start heiling Hitler, the same can be said of those who openly identify as racists and bigots. It is from this observation that Bob Whittaker first conceived his witty line: “I know you are but what am I?” According to a rather unusual understanding of cultural diversity and tolerance, the true culprits are those who dare to call out others on their hateful words and deeds, turning the opponents of racist groups and organized bigotry into ” the REAL racists.”
Such an argument traces right back to core concepts in modern white nationalist ideology. According to whitenationalist.com‘s FAQ and advocated by individuals like Julius Evola, Miguel Serrano, and Stephen McNallen all culture is inherently biological and a factor of genetics. A culture only exists as long as its genetic legacy remains intact, untainted and pure. Achieving that requires ethnic segregation in which each race would be able to exist without fear of degeneration. Some might see no harm in such goals if, of course, you think bantustans and reservations are totally fine, having no drawbacks whatsoever.
For those who feel otherwise, the broader pattern of apartheid apologism; the unspoken implication it would be the white nationalists determining who goes where; the obvious racism in their rampant miscegenation phobia; and the baseless claims of an ongoing genocide against all white people says far more than any lip-service offerings of multicultural understanding could ever conceal.
Getting back to Norsewind, adding further weight to the argument are certain things found floating around social media that directly contradict Danjul’s claims of tolerance. For example, he has Mein Kampf and March of the Titans: History of the White Race under his book “Likes.” Burzum, one of infamous neo-Nazi musician Varg Vikernes‘ early projects, is number two under his music:
One People’s Project also uncovered a comment by Norsewind band member Poul Augustsson, who said, “Torden Stamme and Norsewind raised a horn to you last night” in a post thanking fans for supporting a skinhead counter demonstration in response to a community demonstration against hate and racism in Philadelphia.
Another point was raised about the band’s use of the black sun symbol. This was part of Philly Antifa‘s case, which cited the repeated uses of the Wewelsburg black sun in Norsewind’s album art and promotional materials.
Many apologists have claimed that anyone making accusations of racism toward those using the symbol are ignorant, prejudiced, and mean to harm all Heathens and Pagans. After all, as they argue, the black sun is an ancient pre-Christian, Germanic occult symbol and is on close to the same level of importance as the Valknut or the Hammer of Thor.
Funny how it seems the ancient Germanics never got that memo.
The only evidence we have of a black sun design existing in ancient times comes in the form of a handful of belt buckles and broaches found at dig sites in western Germany and eastern France, and dating from around the time of the Roman Empire. The black sun is simply has not been found in even remotely the same context, importance, or focus as the Valknut on the famous Hammar stone in Gotland, the numerous Mjolnir pendants, and plenty of other examples of sacred symbols.
The first place this specific design has been seen is the North Tower of Wewelsburg Castle in northwestern Germany. From the 14th century until it fell into ruins in the 18th, the castle was the property of the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn. It had a largely unremarkable history ranging from an old ruin to a youth hostel . Then, in 1934, the castle and grounds were purchased by Heinrich Himmler. He intended for the castle to serve as the new center of the cult of the SS. The room with the Wewelsburg Black Sun was a meeting and ritual hall for Himmler and his generals during the Second World War.
Casting doubt on the already dubious antiquity of the Wewelsburg Black Sun is the lack of documentation showing when it was installed in the North Tower floor, with no mention in both the SS or older castle records. Between the lack of clear evidence as to when this design was installed, the castle’s long history as the property of a bishop, and SS renovations, there is no question that the popular Wewelsburg black sun is not an ancient Germanic occult symbol.Its first use postwar by esoteric Hitlerists and neo-Nazi occultists, coupled with its questionable origins, leaves little doubt as to what the real meaning behind this cryptic design is. In many ways the widespread, unquestioning adoption of the black sun by well-meaning, inclusive Heathens and groups is easily the best example of how incredibly insidious and effective metapolitical tactics can be.
This leaves us at the same place we always end up. When the question of racism, bigotry, and organized hate rear their hydra heads,what is to be done?
If we are to look to the recent past, one preferred way of handling this case would be to seek some way to justify or minimize the significance of the skinhead connection, claim Norsewind does not represent Heathenry at all, and claim they are just an outlier. Another would be to attack anyone who dares to bring it up or ask questions about it, arguing that anyone who does is breaking frith or tearing someone down. The end result of both has also been a very consistent: silence.
Whether by refusing to address the bigger questions of why stuff like this keeps happening or through shouting down those who bring it up the end result is the same. Without open discussion, education, and confrontation, the situation in American Heathenry is never going to improve and may get worse. When bigoted, narrow-minded sentiments rear their heads they need to be called out for what they are. Excuses and misdirection must be challenged for what they are.
However, it is not enough to call out the obvious symptoms, the co-optation, and the work of the organized groups seeking to use Heathenry as a launch-pad for their twisted fantasies of race war. We must dig deeper and confront the greater problems that gave them ground to work from in the first place. As much as Heathens and Pagans try to keep broader society at a distance, there are elements of modern life in North America that are simply inescapable.
The greater patterns of misogyny, racism, fundamentalism, homophobic and transphobic words and deeds do not solely exist in the mainstream. Many of these assumptions are at work in our communities and in our movement. If we dig out the organized, most egregious examples of these toxins by root, stem, and branch, but leave undisturbed the soil in which their seeds first took root, then we will be passing this terrible burden on to the next generation of Heathens. Without decisively removing the ubiquitous influence of systemic prejudices against the marginalized in our society, then any immediate success over organized hate groups will be at best a fleeting victory.
The course ahead will not be easy and will take everyone well past what they find comfortable. But in that challenges, struggle and toil, there is an opportunity to truly prove ourselves. We can, and we must, show the often quoted words from the Havamal:
Cattle die, kinsmen die
And so dies oneself
One thing I know never dies
Is the fame of a dead man’s deeds
It is more than just a nice idea but a principle that we stand for, fight for, and will make real no matter the obstacles arrayed against or within us.
For those who feel as I feel and agree this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, I urge you to educate yourself ask questions, speak out and call out these actions as you see them. Give those fanning the flames of hatred no peace, and most importantly reach out to all those who seek a practice in which they are truly free, equal, welcome, and able to truly explore spirituality without fear.