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SPLC Intelligence Report: Pagans Are Radicals, Racists and Support The
Unabomber Yesterday at 8:41:43 PM (EST)
Title: THE NEW ROMANTICS
Author: Southern Poverty Law Center
Source: SPLC Intelligence Report Spring 2001
The New Romantics
A Swedish expert on right-wing extremism says that racist Odinism is the
radical religion of the future.
Mattias Gardell is a professor of religious history at the University of
Stockholm's Center for Research in International Migration and Ethnic
Relations. Although he is Swedish, Gardell has studied the American radical
right extensively since the mid-1990s, publishing two books and scores of
scholarly articles on the subject. After completing an extensive study of
the Nation of Islam in 1996, Gardell embarked on an another major research
project, interviewing several hundred white American racist activists and
spending long periods of time with key leaders. Later this year, the results
of this work, which focused heavily on the rise of neo-Paganism on the
radical right, are expected to be published by Duke University Press as Gods
of the Blood: Race, Ethnicity and the Pagan Revival. The Intelligence Report
interviewed Gardell about the rise of neo-Paganism and its meaning for the
INTELLIGENCE REPORT Why did you focus your most recent work on neo-Paganism
and the radical right?
gardell When I came to the United States in 1996, I expected to write about
[Christian] Identity preachers, Klan leaders, militia leaders and all of
that. I didn't expect to meet all these pagans and to see a new generation
of racial activists so involved in pagan activities. I realized that this
was really big, that paganism was coming up strong and Christian Identity [a
racist, Bible-based religion that claims whites are the real chosen people
of God and Jews are descended from of Satan] was turning into an old man's
religion. It looks like a home for retired people. I found the youth today
go for Odin and Thor and Freya and all the other old Norse gods.
ir What is driving the revival of pagan religions?
gardell The popularity of Odinism today is connected to the revival of
paganism in general. In the first wave of this revival, the whole scene was
mainly leftist. Between 1968 and 1972, it was part of the hippie
counterculture, flower power, back to the land and away from modernism,
capitalism, commercialism, all that kind of leftist thing. It was also
connected to a rise in interest in pre-Christian African traditions and
Native American traditions. There was a revival of this sort all over the
Western world at that time. At that time in the U.S., the far right was
basically reactionary, Christian, into 100 percent Americanism and all that.
So paganism didn't play much of a role on the extreme right during this
But when paganism resurfaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was now
connected to the right. The pendulum had shifted to the right in society in
general, a turn to the right epitomized by Reagan's election and a whole new
program of neo-liberal policies and deregulation and privatization, all of
that. A new generation was coming into adolescence at that time, and they
were part of that rightist wave. At the same time, this generation was made
up of people who had been brought up on [the fantasy novels of J.R.R.]
Tolkien, who played [the popular fantasy game] "Dungeons and Dragons," and
watched sci-fi epics. They also listened to all this new music - industrial
music, Gothic music, black and death and thrash metal.
When this generation met the Odinists, they found all of that, but in a
racialized and militant form. Odinism offered them a new grand narrative.
They could belong to something more important than themselves. They looked
with distaste at American society with its consumerism and materialism and
its stupid TV programs. Medieval knights and Vikings and all that looked
ir Racist Odinists tend to be more independent than members of traditional
hate groups. Do you think the rise of Odinism is changing the shape of the
gardell Definitely. Most of the traditional groups could hold their national
meetings in a telephone booth, and very few of them last more than a few
years - although it's also true that for each organizations that dies,
another is born. Today, the number of white racist activists, Aryan
revolutionaries, is far greater than you would know by simply looking at
traditional organizations. Revolutionaries today do not become members of an
organization. They won't participate in a demonstration or a rally or give
out their identity to a group that keeps their name on file, because they
know that all these organizations are heavily monitored. Since the late
1990s, there has been a general shift away from these groups on the far
This has also helped Odinism thrive. Odinists took the leaderless resistance
concept of [leading white supremacist ideologue] Louis Beam and worked on it
, fleshed it out. They found a strategic position between the upper level of
known leaders and propagandists, and an underground of activists who do not
affiliate as members, but engage instead in decentralized networking and
small cells. They do not shave their heads like traditional Skinheads or
openly display swastikas.
This comes close to what the FBI said in [last year's] Meggido Report [on
radical right groups]. They contended that the overwhelming majority of
domestic terrorists today do not belong to any traditional organization. So
you need to shift your analytical focus from organizations to a
counterculture. It is a counterculture that defines itself in opposition to
what is perceived as the errant direction of where American society is going
- multiculturalism, big government, all of that.
IR The radical right seems in many ways to have further radicalized over
recent years, to have become Nazified. Has Odinism played a role in this?
gardell Odinism has been part of this process of radicalization from the
outset. It goes back, most importantly, to The Order [a terrorist group of
the 1980s], which was founded by Robert Matthews, who was an early Odinist.
The revolutionary Aryan scene today is largely modeled on The Order. Pagans
have had another role in the radicalization of the movement: pointing out
that Christianity, in their view, is the single most important cause of the
demise of Aryan man. By breaking with Christianity - which they see as
unnatural, a religion that hails defeat and weakness and is symbolized by a
crucified loser - racist pagans burned more bridges to American society than
almost any on the radical right who came before.
And Odinism has also made another contribution to radicalization. In the
past, militias and the "Patriots" in general claimed that the [original]
American Revolution had been betrayed, that you had to have a second
American revolution to return the country to what it once was. But David
Lane [an imprisoned Order member who runs an Odinist propaganda ministry
from his cell] broke with these ideas radically. Lane says that from the
very beginning, America was part of the Zionist conspiracy. To him, that is
why the American military has been engaged in all these wars ever since the
country's foundation. All these wars, in Lane's view, were fought to force
the nations of the world to submit to the Zionist dictatorship.
ir So the American democratic experiment was tainted from the start?
gardell It goes all the way back. Lane says you cannot be both white and
American. How could you possibly be what destroys you?
Racists today, in contrast to the '50s and '60s, are not waving the American
flag. They are burning it. And this has helped globalize their message,
which has met and combined with the anti-American sentiment traditionally
found among European fascists and national socialists who never forgave
America for fighting on the wrong side during World War II. That has been an
ir Let's change subjects. Could you give a brief explanation of Odinism and
Asatr˙ and describe some of how they differ from Christianity?
gardell Odinism is a [20th century] racist reconstruction of pre-Christian,
Norse pagan traditions that were generally called Asatr˙. These were the
religious traditions of Europe including Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland
about 1,000 years ago before Christianity reached northern Europe.
Norse traditions do not speak of one god but rather several gods and
goddesses. Odinism does not see the gods as being of a different nature than
man, but as basically being of the same nature. God, or the divine,
permeates nature and animates all living creatures, including trees and
animals, rivers and mountains. The whole earth is seen as divine. There is
no special distinction given to man. Odinism is not an anthropocentric
religion at all. It sees man as being part of nature and it sees the gods
and goddesses as being part of nature. Basically, it's a combination of a
pantheistic notion that holds nature sacred with a polytheistic view of a
plurality of gods and goddesses. This allows for direct communications
between gods and man.
Most people I talked to regard the myths as containing some sacred form of
truth, but no one takes them literally. I have yet to meet one Odinist or
Asatr˙er who believes Thor is actually a red-bearded, muscular,
anthropomorphic entity who wields his hammer to crush real giants. Each god
has limits. So Odinism differs from Christianity because there is no
omnipotent and omnipresent god. The gods have strengths and weaknesses, they
have desires, then enjoy sexuality, they have an appetite for life and they
may even die. The conditions of the gods are familiar to men. This central
point of kinship between man and the divine is key. So when gods and man
engage, they have an interdependent relationship more modeled on the family
than on one of master and servant. An Asatr˙er would never surrender his
will to God. An Asatr˙er or an Odinist, racist or not, would never pray to a
The energies or condensed forces of Odin, Thor, Freya, and the rest are
symbolic representations of human potentials. They are aspects of man's
personality that need to be addressed and balanced. So the main objective
for most Asatr˙ers is to work on these divine inner energies in the quest
for self-metamorphosis, the act of becoming a god. This is different from
the Christian mystic who seeks to transcend humanity and become one with God
. In a racialized context, Odinism or Asatr˙ translates into the notion that
the European people are a divine race.
ir Please describe differences between racist and nonracist neo-Pagans.
gardell There are really three positions: the militant racists, the
nonracists and, in between, a third, "ethnic" position.
The militant racist position claims Asatr˙ is an expression of the Aryan
racial soul, the original Aryan religion going back all the way to the
golden age. This thinking connects with the national socialist occultism of
German Nazis like Heinrich Himmler and a number of philosophers. They are
very much Jungian in their way of perceiving the racial soul, a racial
collective unconscious. For them, Asatr˙, or Odinism, is for every pure
Aryan. And Aryan today is a wider concept than it was in the 30s, including
all those people who we now normally call white - Russian, Greeks, Iberians,
maybe even Iranians.
The nonracists see Asatr˙ as available to anyone. There is no particular
connection to any tribe or racial group.
Then you have the ethnic position that says Asatr˙ is an ethnic religion, a
tribal religion of the north. These people see the gods as present in the
form of archetypes engraved in the ethnicity of all northern Europeans. They
say this is not racism but tribalism. They are open, for instance, to
cooperation with [American] Indian nationalists. They are against national
socialists and fascism. But they are also against the antiracist position.
Unlike the racists, they do not see Odinism as a stepping stone to
implementing a global Aryan revolution. They never talk about ZOG [the so-
called Zionist Occupation Government], Jews or blacks but they are very much
ethnocentric. They are interested in European traditions, artifacts, history
and culture. They might study Icelandic and Norse languages.
ir How do you assess the relative size of these positions?
gardell The racist position has grown tremendously fast in the last four or
five years. The militant racists today probably make up between 40 percent
and 50 percent of Odinists and Asatr˙ers. And I would say the anti-racist
position makes up another 30 percent. And the remainder goes to the ethnics.
We are talking about somewhere around 40,000 people in the militant racist
position. More than half of young people coming into the racist right are
now pagans. Young people are not being drawn in by Christian Identity.
Racist paganism is the most important radical religion today.
ir You mentioned earlier that neo-Paganism is very interested in nature. Is
there a link between neo-Pagans and radical environmentalists?
gardell Yes. Paganism is very nature-oriented, geared to preservation of
mother earth. Pagans have a critique of modern society as destructive to
this planet. To them, it's insanity to think of man as a creature above
other species. So pagans tend to be radical environmentalists. Everybody
supports the Unabomber.
ir Does Odinism's view of man as no more important than any other living
thing make racist Odinists more willing to engage in violence against fellow
gardell I'm not sure if paganism is more violent than Christianity, since
Christians, however sacred they consider human life, slaughtered a lot of
people. Maybe there is a theoretical basis for this, but I haven't really
There is a warrior aspect to Odinism that appeals to a younger generation
that would like to make something greater with their lives. In some Odinist
groups, there are a lot of male paramilitary warrior ideals, a lot of
learning to hunt with bows and arrows and spears and all that manly stuff.
But still, Odinism is not as militarized as some of the Christian Identity
groups with their armed compounds.
It's also interesting that in Norse traditions the relationships between men
and women were more equal than after the introduction of Christianity. So
you have the whole strong woman concept that clashes with the traditional
view of women as mothers only. In the Norse tradition, women are far more
ir You mentioned the support of pagans for the Unabomber. In general, are
pagans connecting ideas of what are traditionally considered the left and
gardell We have all been working with a simple left-right scale for too long
. If you lump all these groups together, national socialists, fascists,
radical right extremists, you make invisible the very important differences
that exist between an Odinist revolutionary and a Pat Buchanan. They are
both far right.
You need to complement the left and right axis with another in terms of
centralization and decentralization. Then you see that groups that belong to
the authoritarian left and the authoritarian right have a lot of things in
common, like the red-brown alliance in Russia. The Stalinists and Hitlerites
have many things in common like the authoritarian state, their anti-
Similarly, the decentralist left and decentralist right also have a lot of
things in common. You have all these green anarchists, radical
environmentalists, talking about issues that are of great concern also to
many of the Aryans and pagans who are involved in the decentralist right end
of the spectrum. These are all the people who were in Seattle [for protests
against the World Trade Organization and economic globalization], on the
decentralist end of things. For all of them, it's a lot of anti-statism and
decentralism, back to the land, being self-sufficient, small-scale, being
concerned with pollution and environmental destruction, preserving wildlife,
all these things. It's very anti-capitalist. And also you have the rise of
this Third Position [an anti-capitalist form of fascism], one of the more
important ideologies in the racist counterculture today. That's almost all
pagan in orientation. Most of those who are Nazified are going back to the
early fascists, like the [pro-worker] fascist syndicalists in Spain. And
this is exactly where the pagans are.
ir Is there something about American culture, other than what we've already
discussed, that makes young people here particularly amenable to paganism?
gardell Paganism has a resonance with traditional American anti-
establishment philosophies, opposition to federal authorities and support
for local self-determination. It connects to the whole Wild West mythos. And
all of this is integral to the pagan message itself. You don't have any
kings; you don't have any presidents. You have tribal chieftains that have
authority because they have a natural or organic authority. If they
misbehave, if they prove themselves to be cowards, the people can choose
someone else. It's very decentralist.
Paganism also connects to American identity politics, the importance to
Americans of ethnic ancestry and people's lineages. It's like the T-shirts
worn by African-Americans: "It's a black thing. You wouldn't understand."
It's like the revival of Native American religions, of shamanism. Through
paganism, whites have an opportunity to do something similar, but distinctly
their own. In the face of an ever more multicultural definition of America,
they go back to northern Europe, where they find things to hold up in the
face of the multiculturalism and global culture. Roots and identity are more
important to Americans today than ever.
ir Does the rise of contemporary neo-Paganism have historical parallels? And
what do these tell us about the dangers inherent in this movement?
gardell Yes, there are parallels, but I don't think you should compare what
is happening today with the 1920s or 1930s in Germany and the rest of Europe
, as many do. You need to go back a decade or two earlier and look at what
happened at that time in continental Europe. There was a very similar kind
of revival going on then, a reaction against the spread of rationalism, the
notion that God was dead. You had the reintroduction of magic, a rise in
interest in alternative religions that looked east, like theosophy and
anthroposophy. There was a revival of paganism. And you had nudism and all
these alternative health therapies. All of a sudden, the pre-Christian
traditions of Europe came into vogue again. With all of this, you had the
rise of nationalist romanticism and racial mysticism and occultism and the
whole return of the medieval, chivalric sort of thing. All of the
philosophers who are so popular today among racist neo-Pagans were popular
At the time, there were all these small, small proto-fascist groups that
nobody really took seriously. They were too small, too dysfunctional and
fragmented, and they engaged in constant warfare among themselves. It was
really hard to see that it all could eventually be turned into something as
powerful as Italian fascism and German national socialism. But out of that
scene eventually arose movements that gained power and threw Europe into a
devastating war and created the Holocaust.
So I think we should look at this very seriously. Even though some of this
stuff looks very bizarre - why pay attention to people who believe in old
gods like Thor and Odin or UFO cults or Hitler being alive inside the hollow
earth or this whole New Age concept? - it still has a lot of potential. A
return to fascism would not come in the same way today. But I think we need
to watch this scene carefully, even if it is not a direct threat to American
or European democracy today.
Issue No. 101
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