Berkeley rally draws Pagan and Heathen attendees

Heather Greene —  April 19, 2017 — 30 Comments

BERKELEY, Calif —  For the third time this year, people convened in the California city of Berkeley to attend, or to protest, what was being labeled a “Freedom Rally” or “Free Speech Rally.” The scene quickly turned violent as tensions mounted between the two gathering factions. The event was over before it had a chance to really begin. According to the police report, there were 11 injuries and 20 arrests with more possible after video footage is reviewed.

3a2105e84ffd9d9a1be263b0e3b31cddMany news outlets have labeled Saturday’s event a pro-Trump rally describing a politically-based scenario pitting Trump supporters against his opponents. While others have called it a Patriots Day free speech rally, championing the right to be heard. Liberty Revival Alliance (LRA) founder and event organizer Rich Black said, “We are the heroes this country needs.”

While pro- and anti-Trump rhetoric did flow through the event, and many people attended solely for that purpose, the rally ultimately was neither a political protest nor a free speech rally. It was a public show of the deep and troubling divides stirring just beneath the surface of the current social climate in the U.S., and what Esquire magazine has described as a confrontation between “anti-fascists and white nationalists.”

Prior to Apr. 15, Black himself made an attempt to distance the event and LRA from such notoriety. In a post, he said, “I know there are many concerns regarding allegations of the LRA and this event having association with Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, or Workers Party groups. I assure you that we do not have any association with anyone who promotes these radical views or hateful rhetoric. they were there, and they were vocal.” He released a second, similar statement Apr. 19, in which he supports the actions taken against Antifa, but denounces any connection to groups defined as white supremacist.

However, Black’s initial statement did not appear to ease concerns, or shift the direction of the event. It even angered some event supporters.

In the end, Esquire‘s assessment is evident not only in photographs and videos coming out of the rally, but also in the general discussions within online forums.

It is also evident in the reasons that drove some Pagans and Heathens to attend the rally.

“It’s a provocation from the alt-right. Just like Milo [Yiannopoulos] and just like the rally in March,” said local Pagan and trained street medic Brennos Agrocunos Gunn. He was at the park Saturday with friend and fellow medic Laine Mardollsdottir.

As Gunn explained, “They come to Berkeley because Berkeley is Sodom and Gomorrah in their mythology. They come here, to one of the most diverse communities in the country to antagonize the residents and then cry ‘fascists’ when the residents react badly to having Nazi salutes in their faces and being told that they’re going to be taken on helicopter rides.”

His assessment is corroborated by LVA supporters who rallied behind the idea that patriots need to go where they are not welcome. One supporter publicly quoted abolitionist and activist Abigail Kelley Foster, who is credited with saying, “Go where you are least wanted, for there you are most needed.”

Gunn added, “Everyone on the counter protest side would much rather be doing something else, but also have a strong commitment to not allowing white supremacists have a platform in our town.”

Mardollsdottir said, “I acted as a medic during the protest, helping people who had been maced or hit with pepper spray or otherwise harmed during the confrontation.” Mardolssdottir is a Freyjasgydja and priestess of the Golden Flame, and she was not the only Heathen at the rally.

“It was heartening to see Diana Paxson and other members of the Heathen community put themselves in harm’s way in the fight against racism and bigotry.”

[Courtesy HUAR Facebook]

Counter Protests by members of HUAR, the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry and The Troth [Courtesy HUAR Facebook]

In an email interview, Paxson said, “My friends and I attended under the banner of the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, which exists to organize and provide a context for individuals and groups to work together for specific events, such as the Heathen Hospitality Suite at Pantheacon or booth at the World Parliament of Religions in 2015. This was the ‘group’s’ first political event.”

Paxson nor alliance representatives attended the two previous rallies held Berkeley, but they felt this one was different.

“I viewed the first alt-right attempt at a rally in Berkeley with the disdain it deserved,” Paxson explained.

“However the one this weekend was advertised as including representatives from Identity Evropa, and more important, Steve McNallen of the [Asatru Folk Assembly] as a speaker.”

She went on to say, “I felt that if someone was going to publicly present Heathenry as a religion for European-Americans only, someone needed to be there to present Heathenry as a culturally-based but inclusive religion. […] Too many people already think Heathens are racists or neo-Nazis. We have to counter the bad PR.”

Along with the Alliance were members of The Troth and Heathens United Against Racism. In a statement, HUAR said, in part,”We learned that Stephen McNallen intended to be at the April 15th alt-right rally after seeing a post from Nathan Damigo, the founder and leader of the alt-right group Identity Evropa.”

As a result, members unanimously voted to support a HUAR presence. The Heathen contingent carried their own banners and signs.

As for McNallen, he was in fact at Saturday’s rally wearing a helmet. In a public post Apr. 13, he asks who will be joining him at the event, adding that he was not going attend at first because Trump “isn’t exactly in [his] good graces right now.” However, when he realized it was a “Free Speech March,” he changed his mind.

McNallen added, “Besides, I think some folks are expecting me, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.”

He did not publicly specify who those folks were, nor did he say whether or not he would be speaking. Neither AFA officials nor McNallen responded to requests for an interview to clarify that point or to respond to other questions regarding their participation.

However, what is clear is that McNallen was in attendance at the rally, but he was not there on official AFA business or even simply as a representative for the organization. McNallen made that point clear. Additionally, he stated that AFA was not involved in any capacity with the organizing group.

Whether or not McNallen was planning to speak is still unknown. In the Apr. 13 post, Black did mention that there would be a number of scheduled speakers who had not yet been publicly announced. Even if McNallen was on that alleged hidden schedule, he never got the chance to address the crowd. The rally was cut short when violence broke out prior to the scheduled noontime start.

McNallen left shortly after that point, as did Paxson and the members of the other the two Heathen organizations.


Mardolsdottir assisting an injured attendee [courtesy photo]

“When it became clear that the alt-right and the antifascists were only interested in shouting at each other, not listening to anyone, my group kept to the periphery and spent much of our time displaying our placards to people driving by,” Paxson recalled.

“[We] got some approving honks.” They left when the police took out the tear gas.

Mardollsdottir and Gunn stayed longer to assist injured people, which was their initial purpose for attending.

“I was given a warning to leave at a certain point by allies in the crowd,” said Mardollsdottir.

“This was when the police began deploying tear gas and arresting folks in earnest (as a transgender woman being arrested is dangerous for me in ways it may not be for others). I returned to help half an hour or so later when the conflict had moved and the police presence was less intense.”

Mardollsdottir said that she left between 11:30 am and noon. During that short time, she stayed nearby on local streets, keeping in contact with Gunn who was still in the park.

“He gave me updates and I returned when it seemed like I was at less risk than I had been,” she said.

Gunn added, “Having street medics on the ground in the middle of the fighting puts us into a position where we might be able to save someone’s life. First responders generally won’t go into a dangerous situation, and I’ve watched law enforcement stand by while people get stabbed right in from of them.”

When Mardolsdottir returned to the park, the tensions had not yet abated. “There was a small crowd of white supremacists taunting protesters. A few fist fights broke out around me but no one was seriously hurt,” she recalled.

“They dispersed soon with Antifa holding the scene,” she noted. “The police started to block exits from the intersection that we were at so we decided the day was done at that point.”

In retrospect, Gunn said, “My real fear is that someone is going to get seriously injured or killed at one of these; they keep getting uglier and uglier.”

He attended both the Yiannopoulos protest and the Mar. 4 one. Gunn added that he spent a lot of time trying to prevent the Milo event from happening at all by having discussions with people at the University of California – Berkeley. That event, scheduled for February, was cancelled after violence broke out on campus.

When asked if they would attend another similar rally, both Gunn and Mardolssdottir emphatically said yes. “I’ll go out again if any of these idiots come back and try this again, which they will,” stated Gunn.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to help and would be grateful to return to support the fight against fascism and racism,” Mardolssdottir said.


Gunn attending an injured member of Antifa [courtesy photo].

“Being a devotee of two goddesses associated with battle I felt that helping was obligatory where possible, so my attendance was at least in part an act of devotion.”

Paxson, on the other hand, said she probably wouldn’t attend again unless there was a notable Heathen element as there was in this case. “The alt-right paramilitary blue-shirts and the black-clad Antifa went looking for a fight and got it,” she said.

“Until we can organize a sufficient number of people who are interested in communication and peaceful protest I will avoid rallies.”

As noted by Paxson, regardless of intent or advertising, these events are more about the conflict than about building bridges or fixing problems. Just as McNallen brought a helmet, so did many others. Violence was expected, and for some clearly the plan.

After the dust settled, the stories and accounts coming out of Saturday’s clash suggest that the violence had eventually been reduced to a battle specifically between “Antifa and paramilitary blue-shirts,” as suggested by Paxson. This was a battle that Black and other rally supporters have since celebrated.

Regardless, the conflict was not one between two opposing political groups as suggested by some media outlets, but rather of ideological factions. And, for many in attendance, religion, whether it be Christianity or Heathenry, is a definitive and essential part of their world view.

Bible versus and shouts of “God bless” were just as present as any of the Heathen signs.

For Paxson, the intersection between race, culture, and religion are complicated. She said, “I have loved European culture since I got into medieval studies in college, and was attracted to Heathenry in part as a way to avoid misappropriating any of the other cultures I was interested in, however ancestry is only one element in ethnicity, and affinity and adoption can outbalance it.

“Heathens say ‘We are our deeds,’ and deeds mean more than DNA. Those who are called by my gods I will not deny.”

As suggested by Gunn, the tensions do appear to be escalating. Where this conflict goes next is yet to be seen. At this time, one pro-Trump group is reportedly planning another patriots rally May 1 in Los Angeles.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • I agree with Paxson’s analysis and actions. Interesting to know that Mcnallen was in the crowd too. Would be interesting to know if there had been other Heathens/ Pagans on the alt-right side as well.

    However, as Paxon says “The alt-right paramilitary blue-shirts and the black-clad Antifa went looking for a fight and got it” and it is worrisome that such occurrences of seemingly-planned violence are becoming more common.

    Truly a symbol of division indeed.

    • JB

      The “looking for a fight” rhetoric is pretty tiresome.

      The fight is here, and has been for 400 years. The winning side is ramping up their aggression, not content with centuries of ongoing genocide and territorial theft on a continental scale, or even the securing of hegemonic political power by the most rabid of their troglodytic ranks.

      If you don’t see the shadow of the boot falling on your neck, Lyonel—or more importantly, if you’re not already gasping for breath—you have no credibility to lazily decry those whose hands are reaching up to grab the oppressor’s leg and throw it off.

      The violence is absolutely being planned, as it has been for generations. Why does it worry you when people stand up to it? And furthermore, what sort of unity with fascists—in contrast to the “division” you bemoan—would you envision?

      • While I’ll always acknowledge, and support one’s right to fight off oppression in any form, I can’t see how actually rooting for confrontation when one isn’t threatened in actuality helps.

        Protestors had absolutely the right to protest however was organizing this public speech, just like they had the right to organize it. If either side engages in violence, sure, shut them down for disturbing public order but it seems here that both sides ended up engaging in violent behavior, which is neither acceptable nor constructive.

      • kenofken

        A lot about the Antifa response and movement worries me. For one thing, they’re giving the fascists exactly what they want and what they came for – affirmation of their narrative which casts themselves as persecuted heroes. Brawling with fascists plays to all of their strengths. When the fascists win a street fight, of course, they note that as solid gold-medal victory. When they lose, or better yet, get bloodied first by aggressors, that’s a priceless propaganda win for them.

        Beating up or running off a pack of fascists sure might feel good, but it also helps radicalize and solidify them. It helps them to recruit from the most disaffected and angry constituencies. It transforms a bunch of underachieving wankers and social misfits into Free Speech Martyrs. Declaring some ideas absolutely off limits lends those ideas a mystique and credibility they could never achieve on their own merits. Antifa didn’t bring down Milo Yiannopoulos. They made him rich. What brought him down was his own mouth.

        As a general matter, I’m not real enthusiastic about the idea of self-appointed “white hat” vigilantes. They tend not to be accountable to anyone, and their penchant for use of force rarely stays limited to their original targets. A group of Antifa enforcers who runs off the alt-right today may well decide to treat me to a “boot party” a few years down the road for saying something they consider impolitic. Another word for “antifascists” can all too often be “opposing fascists”.

  • Prior to this incident, the Berkeley events have been discouraging. It wasn’t the alt-right or Trump supporters who were forcing others to be silent.

    Free speech does not mean shutting the other guy up. It means you talk. It means sometimes you yell at each other and wave your fingers in the other person. It means you argue. It means you sit down over drinks and try to understand why they won’t listen. It means giving the other the same respect you expect for yourself.

    All other things being equal, the side that can’t stand dissent is usually wrong.

    • JB

      “All other things being equal, the side that can’t stand dissent is usually wrong.”


      “Establishing a false equivalency as a starting point, the side that can’t stand outsiders attempting to organize paramilitary repression and genocide in their own communities is wrong.”

      • It doesn’t need a translation. Please stop trying to put words in my mouth.

        And if you can be bothered to double check, I specifically said “prior to this incident.”

    • A. M.

      All other things aren’t equal.

      • I agree, most other things are not equal.

        For example, last year a Econ Journal Watch study found that in 40 leading universities, Democrat professors outnumber Republicans more than 11 to 1.

        Now I may not read every thing on the internet, but in the last five years I can’t recall a single progressive speaker on college being “disinvited” to speak or violence breaking out before or during the speech. I can remember several cases of it happening to conservatives and one or two libertarians.

        I’m not saying you have to agree with what is said. I am not saying that you have to cheer it from the sidelines. I am saying we need our beliefs and convictions tested by people who don’t agree with us.

        It’s how we learn if our ideas can stand on their own. It’s how our ideas can be made better even if we didn’t see all the angles.

        • Friday

          That’s cause Republican policies ask a cognitive dissonance or willful deception (Not to mention greed for more-lucrative lines of work if anyone can do) in anyone embracing them: not exactly the professorial type anywhere but Christian Right fake universities like “Liberty” or other Dominionist schools.

          • If you are expecting me to defend Republican policies, you’ve got the wrong man.

            As for the study I wrote about, you have enough information to find it on the web. It’s worth your time to look at. It’s no secret that Democrats and progressives are *ahem* overrepresented in university facilities. The question is why? And it’s not because of their undeniable wisdom and sterling character.

    • “All other things being equal, the side that can’t stand dissent is usually wrong.”

      If the dissent is:

      “Women are inferior to men”
      “The Jews are a source of evil and are conspiring against people of European descent.”
      “I think all races are inferior to white people”

      Or other hate-filled ignorant Nazi rubbish, then you may have the freedom to espouse such nonsense, but others have the same right to speak out against you.

      Even if we have free speech, which we do, not all opinions are equally valid. One that marginalizes women and minorities is shitty.

      I’m not saying I believe that people should be punched for espousing such opinions. But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing people these ideas not be given a platform to espouse their hate. Of course, in this day and age…that’s impossible. We have the Internet where anyone can go somewhere online and say crazy stuff like this. But I am glad to see people speaking out against this toxic racist shit.

      People have the right to their opinion, even if it is a shitty one. But everyone else has the same right to tell you that your opinion is wrong if it involves Nazi, racist, or misogynist bullshit.

      • “If the dissent is:”

        That’s the crux, isn’t it?

        What if it isn’t about those things you list?

        What if it’s about “universal health care is a bad idea?”

        What if it’s about “kids do better in homes with two parents?”

        What if it’s about “if I don’t agree with the union, I shouldn’t be forced to join?”

        Maybe, just maybe, not everyone who supported Trump can be lumped into the same group. And I say that as someone who pushed “None Of The Above” in the last election.

        Maybe, just maybe, there’s some good people there. People worth knowing. People you could trust. People who might take your side if they knew you better.

        Maybe, just maybe you share more with them then you might think.

        • My apologies. I did not intend to convey that all Trump supporters were Nazis or racists or misogynists. I know that they’re not and have many things in common with many of them. I’m not anti-Trump supporter (even if I am anti-Trump). My comment is specifically about the Nazis/racists/misogynists that organized this event.

          I may disagree politically with most conservatives, but I’m not anti-conservative as much as I’m against Nazism and their ilk. I understand and respect that the two are not synonymous. I feel as if I can have a respectful interaction about politics with many conservatives…even if we agree to disagree.

          I also ask that people on the right speak out against Nazis, white supremacist groups, and misogyny.

          • Thank you for your courtesy.

            As a libertarian, I disagree with progressives about half the time and with conservatives the other half. There’s a Penn Jillette quote, “If you want to find utopia, take a sharp right on money and a sharp left on sex and it’s straight ahead.”

            I am certainly against Nazism, supremacist groups, and misogyny. I just think they SHOULD be heard, if for no other reason than they can be laughed off the stage.

            As loudly and as enthusiastically as we can.

        • BTW, the top article at paganvigil dot com right now is a criticism of the Syrian bombing.

        • Friday

          Righties always talk about ‘What if,’ while denying what *is.*

          • I’m not a “righty.” I am the guy who talked about what was happening in Berkeley before this incident.

            I think the university was blaming the Black Bloc for about $100 grand in damages before the Yiannopoulos appearance was canceled. We do know that the alt-right wasn’t involved in that.

  • JB

    “As Gunn explained, “They come to Berkeley because Berkeley is Sodom
    and Gomorrah in their mythology. They come here, to one of the most
    diverse communities in the country to antagonize the residents and then
    cry ‘fascists’ when the residents react badly to having Nazi salutes in
    their faces and being told that they’re going to be taken on helicopter

    While B. A. Gunn’s street medical praxis is commendable, I hope they never have to defend themselves and subsequently be decried as “reacting badly”. Yeesh.

    • nope

      You know, they could just keep their asses home & stop provoking the people who LIVE there. That would be a really good way to ‘defend themselves’.

  • Every time I see “antifa” my brain tries to complete it to “intifada” or “Latifa”. Drives me nuts.

    I agree, the free speech idea isn’t exactly working with these two sides. No real discourse, just a lot of shouting and worse.

  • Christian Day

    And here comes Steve McNallen again to stand up for whites-only heathenry and he continues to get a rather large pass from a certain group of anarchist-leftist polytheist pagan types. In fact, one of the most vocal members of that group—and a former writer for this site—was approached about a Salem, Massachusetts shop blatantly selling the white supremacist works of McNallen and Valgard Murray to tens of thousands of tourists under the guise of “Witchcraft” and, when approached about it by a fellow person concerned with social justice, said vocal member was like, “meh.” So, let me get this straight. Capitalism is evil. Racism is evil. But selling racism as Witchcraft in Salem is “meh.” That I have so much documentation of this and nobody seems to care says a lot about how truly committed the social justice set actually is to social justice. I have two shops in Salem. I know just how many regular people from all walks of life and from all around the world I can reach with my ideas. I also know how many people the purveyors of white supremacist books in Salem can reach with their ideas. Is it because of my background in advertising that I see the danger in this while others can’t? These are the mysteries.

    • I disagree that capitalism is evil, but I agree with pretty much everything else you said.

      • Christian Day

        NeoWayland: oh my! No, I do not think that capitalism is evil. I was referring to their standpoint. I do, however, agree with that crew that racism is evil, even though they tried to paint me and a well-known (and truly delightful) magical author as racist or racist-sympathizing on no legitimate basis whatsoever. I think inherently painting any economic structure as inherently evil takes us down a rather precarious road and underestimates the ability of humans to rise above one another in any system, even a communist one. Heck, even practically anarchistic places like Somalia have their warlords. I think that crew vastly oversimplifies the political realities of our world.

        • I admit I’m a little leery here. You have a reputation, even in Arizona. I don’t take people at their word, I prefer to examine what they do and how they touch the lives of other people. I don’t believe we’ve ever talked before, so I don’t have direct experience.

          Is one economic system inherently evil? That depends on the language, doesn’t it? For example, “free trade” doesn’t really need treaties or government monitoring. Much of what passes as capitalism today is actually crony capitalism. I’m not a big fan of institutions for the sake of institutions. Politics is about controlling the behavior of other people, and I’m pretty sure that most folks would do better with a great deal less politics in their lives. People should make their own choices and take responsibility.

          Which is another really REALLY big reason I am pagan.

      • Christian Day

        I probably agree with you on here more than anyone else. I’d call myself more of a civil-liberatiran left-leaning person than a libertarian per se, and I may even be a bit more hawkish than your average libertarian or leftist but then one learns something being a public figure and a thus a public target: American cannot afford to completely ignore its enemies for America’s enemies will never completely ignore America.

        • I’ve learned enough to know that no one person (and no one group) has all the answers. I’ve also learned that even if you use something that works, there’s somebody else out there who can do it better.

          It’s why I read conservative and progressive sites. It’s why I try to talk to people of all political stripes and in many professions. It’s why I like learning about different religions and histories. It makes me a better person, even if I don’t agree.

          The motto of my political site is “Because LIBERTY demands more than just black and white.” It’s an ideal that I try to live every day.

          The borderlands can be a fascinating place, even if it’s the border between thoughts.

    • kenofken

      I’m just still haunted by the idea that someone would experience disappointment by McNallen’s absence at an event. I hope my loved ones will have me humanely put down if I ever come to such a state!

      • Christian Day

        kenofken: It’s horrifying. One of my friends read his books to see how bad he was—something I just couldn’t bring myself to do—and said it was worse than even I’d thought. This is a cancer in the Pagan and magical communities. I get that people have their various issues with Salem, its touristy and kitschy (and dramatic) reputation, but I can say, unequivocally, that McNallen does not represent what the vast majority of Witches in Salem believe or espouse and it hurts me to think that he will become part of our narrative.