White Supremacists in U.S. Inspired by Ancient Nordic Religion

A swastika lights up the night at the Ulysses, Pennsylvania, home of Daniel Burnside, a white supremacist Odinist who is raising his seven children in the religion

Inspired by an ancient heathen religion, known most commonly as Odinism, White supremacists carry out terrorist attacks on American soil. In at least six cases since 2001, professed Odinists have been declared guilty of plotting – or pulling off – domestic terrorism attacks, Reveal News reports.

Today’s racist Odinists claim it is the only pure religion for white people, one not “mongrelized” by the Jewish prophet Jesus – thus making Odinism a perfect fit for a strain of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who think Christianity has been defiled by outsiders and weakened by passivity, as has been the case with many other institutions. Odinists see themselves as warriors, set to reclaim America for the white race and fight against a Jewish-inspired white genocide which is impoverishing the greatest country on earth.

“Now is a great time for Odinism because it fits into this historical narrative about European cultural greatness and a connection between whiteness and nationality,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Odinism is currently undergoing a revival, he says.

Odinists are worshippers of ancient Norse gods like Thor and Odin. Thor’s hammer pendants are worn around their necks as a group identity, and they meet for rituals in the woods, where they drink mead from a communal horn, read ancient poetry, and occasionally slaughter animals in sacrifice to the gods. Odinism advocates revenge and rewards warriors for fighting and dying for their noble cause. These theme and practice are more appealing than Christian values to many white supremacists who were once Christians.

“Turning the other cheek and it’s all going to be OK, that isn’t the answer a lot of people who are turning to Odinism are looking for,” said Daniel Burnside, a white supremacist Odinist from Potter County, Pennsylvania, who is raising his seven children in the religion. “They’re looking for the idea of, do you want to be the nail, or do you want to be the hammer?”

Odinism was once promoted as the only cure for America’s “spiritual sickness” by Else Christensen, a Danish immigrant and one of the devotees that spread Odinism in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. She traveled America, setting up Odinist groups in prisons, preaching that restoration of national and racial pride is the only hope for America to be strong again.

White supremacist worldview is not popular among heathen religions like Odinism, but the number of attacks carried out by racist, domestic far-right terrorists in the last two decades is not negligible (in fact, far-right terrorists carried out four times more attacks in the United States since 1990 than Islamist jihadists, though more Americans were killed as a result of jihadist attacks). Experts warn that these groups are thriving in 2017’s divided America.

The Odinists, and other far-right nationalists, share a feeling of insecurity. “Races just don’t really mix well, especially if whites are the minority among other racial groups – if we’re under attack or we’re threatened. It just doesn’t ever work in our favor,” said Brandon Lashbrook, 34, an Odinist from Downtown Centralia, Illinois, who first attended a Ku Klux Klan rally when he was eight. “We have to be prepared to fight. We need to study martial arts, weight train. We need to be prepared and unified, and ready to defend ourselves,” he added.

Lowell Smith, a former probation officer who worked with white supremacists across the United States for fifteen years, said law enforcement should prioritize any belief system, conventional or obscure, which motivates people to consider killing innocent civilians. These groups are also dangerous to law enforcement officers. According to a 2015 poll of law enforcement officers from all over the country, U.S. government agencies “consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence they face.”

Some of the terrorists may not even be committed to the religion they use as cover to kill people. Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., who pledged himself to Odin in his self-published 1999 autobiography, was hardly known as a practicing Odinist. But on 13 April 2014, after about one month of disappearance, he went on rampage intending to kill as many Jews as possible. He killed three people at two Kansas Jewish community centers. As it turned out, his victims were non-Jewish employees at the center and he told the court “I wanted to kill Jews, not people.”

Terrorism experts say that singling out one religion as the source of terrorism is a mistake. Talking about the threat of homegrown Odonist terrorists, Daryl Johnson, who spent six years as the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, said: “Extremists tend to hijack these religions and these beliefs and adopt them into their worldview and use them for justification for carrying out violent attacks,” he said.

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