Moderators of online Pagan groups describe experiences with white supremacist members

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ASHEVILLE, North Carolina – The resurgence of white supremacist ideology has affected multiple groups in the Pagan, polytheist and Heathen community. The online presence of various communities is no exception, and perhaps even a softer target for promoting supremacist ideology.

TWH spoke to several online moderators who have had to re-evaluate how they run their online groups as a result of unpleasant interactions. Ryan Denison, who runs the group and page, Heathen Men United (HMU), AdminKerri for the Michael Hughes’ Bind Trump (official) group, and Laura Perry of Ariadne’s Tribe: Modern Minoan Paganism all shared information about their online groups and their experiences with white supremacist ideologies entering their spaces.

All three moderators expressed that they take the threat of white supremacist ideology and attempts to influence Pagan groups and individual thinking very seriously. They all also said that there is no room for this type of ideology. In fact, all three moderators have removed members from their groups, and have blocked other individuals who they felt had obvious signs of ascribing to the ideology white supremacy from joining their groups.

Trolling is one of the concerns. Online trolling has been around since the general public has had access to the internet. Social media platforms have provided a fertile atmosphere for trolls, and especially for white supremacists who employ trolling techniques for their purposes.

Another concern is the use of historical revisionism. Revisionism is the re-interpretation of history in support of specific values; in these cases to support white supremacist ideology. Both strategies have been on the increase and the moderators have working on countering them.

In response, group moderators have been more attentive about the motivations of potential participants. Denison and Perry both have added questions that must be answered before a potential member is allowed to join their groups. Both use a screening process that takes into consideration a person’s social media profile and the language they routinely use.

Perry described their screening process: “We now screen anyone who asks to join if we don’t already know them. I dislike having to do that, but our group is a safe space for our members to explore their spirituality. We don’t all always agree, and we have our arguments, but we do it respectfully. There’s a big difference between politely disagreeing with someone and declaring that certain types of people have less of a right to exist than others do.”

AdminKerri preferred to keep their method secret. How the Bind Trump group goes about vetting, keeps people guessing as to what the criteria are that they use.

But screening is only part of the challenge. Perry’s group had to remove a member in July of this year. It turns out that modern Minoans have become an increasingly popular focal point for those heavily invested in proving some type of “white cultural identity.” The former member insisted that the Minoan culture was “purely white” contrary to what is known historically about that culture. Suggesting that Minoas were a “white” culture is fantasy.

Perry explains why this might be happening given her expertise: she literally wrote the Pagan book on Minoans. She explained,

The main excavator of Knossos, Sir Arthur Evans, both brought the Minoans back into view and, unfortunately, misrepresented them as “white” (by his definition: a tall, fair-skinned, Nordic type people). He was a pretty extreme racist even by the standards of his time and was desperate to find a white pre-Greek civilization to claim as the source of European culture in order to dispel the idea that Mesopotamia, with its ancient cities full of brown-skinned people, was the cradle of civilization.

Though his ideas about the appearance and ancestry of the Minoans have long been discredited, white nationalists have dug them up and are using them as tools for both argument and recruitment. They appear to be searching out online groups with the word ‘Minoan’ in the name in order to attempt to spread these outdated ideas along with their other propaganda.

The idea of the Minoans as being a white culture is incorrect. Perry notes that, “DNA testing shows that the Minoans’ ancestors migrated out of western Anatolia during the Neolithic era and settled on Crete. They were one of several waves of migration that spread out of that area and into Europe during the Neolithic, several millennia before the Indo-Europeans came on the scene. So the Minoans were not Indo-European, though the later Greeks were.”

Perry added, “DNA evidence shows that the Minoans, like other paleo-Europeans, had brown skin and slightly small stature; if you’ve seen the reconstruction of Cheddar Man, a Neolithic man from Britain, that will give you a good idea of what they looked like. And it clearly isn’t white.”

While both Denison and AdminKerri said they have not had to deal with a lot of white supremacists, it is something they have both had to address periodically. When asked if they had noticed a difference in the approach of people asking to join their groups over time, Denison remarked: “We have been lucky to have not dealt with a lot of trolls or white supremacists joining, but they will lie to get in and try to troll.”

AdminKerri agreed: “No, people are pretty consistent about their reasons. We generally have a large influx of people after a published article or if a post is shared to another group. Some who try to infiltrate are clever, some are so blatant (I love Trump!) that I’m not sure why they waste their time.”

Vetting members can be time-consuming nevertheless, though it varies by group and administrator. Denison said on average it takes him 10-20 minutes per new member request. But for groups with higher traffic, a hundred requests can translate into days of work.

AdminKerri said, “We spend at least a third of our time if not more (maybe half) on some form of security, but it’s more in the vein of group engagement than any “police state” mentality. We are just tuned in as much as possible to our members.”

Map of Europe: National Archives, UK

 

Fortunately, none of the administrators reported their negative online experiences became real-world confrontations. But there have been damaging outcomes. Denison cited online toxicity at least partly responsible for the dissolution of a face-to-face group in which he was a member.

Denison added, “For Heathen groups, this is a constant battle and there are many groups in the U.S., such as the Odinists or the AFA, that promote these ideologies, only sometimes openly.”

Denison suggests that members and moderators can work together to prevent supremacist ideologies contaminating a group. He said, “Educate yourself in the history, group names, and current dog-whistle terms! A lot of these groups are not open and only gradually reveal themselves with gaslighting techniques. Educate, delineate, elucidate. There are far more white supremacists out there than you think. The current administration may have increased that number somewhat, but it is more so that they were already there and now just feel comfortable displaying their hate.”

AdminKerri added to remember that, “Paganism is not homogenous and threats from WS [white supremacy] are not relegated to ‘outsiders.’ If you are considering joining a new group or making new connections, vet carefully. Observe. Ask questions. Heighten your intuition. Stay strong in your practice and beliefs especially if encountering a particularly charismatic personality sweet-talking tribalism.”

AdminKerri went on to say, ”I think it’s important to understand that the presence of WS [white supremacy] within Paganism is not new. Certain groups have historically resonated with, or simply been formed within, a culture of WS [white supremacy] ideology. For some, it is deeply rooted in their understanding of deity and power, both magical and mundane. Some folks are going to feel their tradition is being threatened by the uptick in awareness around WS, which will only intensify its outward expressions, so expect to see more and emboldened actions. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming it is a novelty within Paganism, it is not. Dismissing this fact can lend to naive and ineffective countering when what is needed is a well-informed/prepared no-bs response. Hate cannot stand.”