A European-based anti-refugee group is finding a new home in the United States, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League, and catching fire with neo-Nazis and anti-government extremists.
The group–Soldiers of Odin–launched in Finland in 2015 and is named for a Norse god. Members of the group can often be seen in Finland patrolling the streets, wearing black jackets inscribed with a Viking and the Finnish flag and attempting to be vigilante “eyes and ears for the police,” according to the ADL report.
The group represents a backlash to the rising number of refugees being resettled throughout Europe. In Finland, the number of refugees quickly ballooned from just little more than 3,000 in 2014 to 32,000 in 2015. The group has already spread across Europe from France to the U.K.
Now, the Soldiers of Odin are making moves in the U.S.
According to the ADL’s report, rumblings from the Soldiers of Odin USA began in February of this year. Unlike Europe, which is facing a massive refugee crisis, the number of refugees coming into the U.S. is still relatively small. And so far, Soldiers of Odin USA has mostly a web presence. Still, ADL estimates that there are at least 4,000 individuals linked to the U.S. group.
In March, the Soldiers of Odin chapter in Denver, Colorado held its first patrol. And the ADL reported that in Montana–where there is not even a refugee resettlement office–the backlash against refugees was so strong that “more than 200 people tried to crowd into a [Flathead County] March 10 county commissioners meeting to express anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiments.” In March, a Soldiers of Odin group emerged to encourage individuals in the Flathead Valley to protest any Muslim refugee resettlement in the area.
“Europe waited until AFTER she was flooded with refugees to protest in large numbers. We will not make the same mistake in Montana,” the group’s Facebook page read. “We all know that many of the Muslim refugees are causing massive amounts of crime, in particular sexual assault and rape of women and children. Soldiers of Odin peacefully patrols the streets to protect citizens.”
Since April, the group has 42 state chapters in the U.S. and it has spent much of its time on recruiting and normalizing rules of the official organization. ADL’s Mark Pitcavage said that the group seems to be trying to build an organizational structure it can expand into. Members have also spent time trying to gather the official Soldiers of Odin gear.
“In their short existence so far, the Soldiers of Odin USA have spent most of their energy on recruiting, organization and trying to obtain Soldiers of Odin shirts and jackets—something in which it is clear members place great stock.”
The group maintains it’s not racist. In fact the Soldiers of Odin USA has taken special care to protect their image. In its patrol in Colorado, the group actually met to deliver food to the homeless. And its official by-laws include repeatedly the words “non-racist.” The group has even selected a special marketing and research director to make sure that the group’s propaganda materials reflect a certain image, Pitcavage said.
However, its Finnish founder Mika Ranta is a known neo-Nazi, according to the ADL. And ADL points out that many of the members within the U.S. branch of the organization also have ties to white nationalism.
“An examination of the members and supporters leaves no room for doubt: though not all such adherents of the group are white supremacists or bigots, so many of them clearly are that the Soldiers of Odin can easily be considered a hate group,” the ADL wrote in its report.
ADL noted that William Johnson, a leader of the American Freedom Party who organized robocalls earlier this year in Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire on behalf of Donald Trump who he claimed could halt “white genocide” was aligned with the group as were ADL – identified Alabama Klan leader Bradley Jenkins and Maryland skinhead Jason Tankersley.
It’s also clear that anti-Muslim sentiment is strong within the group. The ADL’s report included a dozen of the most brazen statements against Muslims posted from the group.
Pitcavage told TPM that one of the more confounding aspects of the new Soldiers of Odin group in the U.S. is that the organization seems to bring together both white nationalist and anti-government factions. The various extremist groups have typically kept their distance from one another, but the anti-Muslim sentiment appears to have united the previously incongruent groups in recent years.
Whether or not the various factions can successfully survive together, however, remains to be seen.