Asatru’s Racist Missionary: Stephen McNallen, Defend Europe, and the Weaponization of Folkish Heathery
"...while the Alt Right is the U.S. and Europe were singing the identitarian’s praises, a celebrity in the U.S. pagan community was capitalizing on this to renew his call for racial tribalism."
From Ryan Smith & Shane Burley
As they headed out into the Mediterranean, Defend Europe had the plan of interfering with humanitarian NGOs attempting to provide medical aid to refugees crossing the seas after years of war-torn violence.
After raising $200,000 through crowdfunding websites like WeSearchr, Defend Europe chartered a 422-ton ship, determined that they would block refugee boats, putting families at fatal risk so that they could prevent the “Islamization of Europe” they believed to be taking place. Heading into the Libyan “search-and-rescue” zone on August 4-5, this meant intending to block Doctors Without Borders as they desperately tried to save the lives of children floating.
Defend Europe is an extension of the “identitarian” movement in Europe, made up of controversial nationalist groups like Generation Identity that the Alt Right in the U.S. have been desperate to imitate. Defend Europe’s direct-interventionist approach is hoping, desperately, to find that there is some evidence of these NGOs practicing “human trafficking,” bringing in refugees for “forced” resettlement.
Throughout the formation of the organization and its project on the high seas, North American Alt Right figures have been active in their support. People like Lauren Southern, formerly of the caustic Rebel Media, had her Patreon suspended from her stated support.
But while the Alt Right is the U.S. and Europe were singing the identitarian’s praises, a celebrity in the U.S. pagan community was capitalizing on this to renew his call for racial tribalism.
For people in the pagan community, McNallen’s name is well-known, a collage of veneration and horror. The heathen revival, particularly Asatru in the United States, comes from McNallen’s construct starting in the 1960s, bridging over a friendlier version of the racialist Odinism found across Europe. After being drawn by the stories of heroism found in the Eddas and Sagas, McNallen formed the Viking Brotherhood in 1969 with the Viking Manifesto, an ode to a young-male obsession with the warrior cult media interpretation of Norse Vikings.
Taking on a more serious tone, and adopting the magical flavor from Iceland, he created the Asatru Free Assembly in 1976, using the same meta-genetic tone of Else Christiansen’s earlier Odinic Rite, yet eschewing the harder edged racialism. For McNallen, this was to be a religion of the Northern European people, their true spiritual practice, and he could use the language of post-colonialism to argue that it was their right--just as it was that of the Tibetans to be freed from the hands of the Chinese Communist Party or for the Navajo Nation to be allowed to have ethnically-exclusive Pow Wows. This was not a new argumentation for the right; European New Right academics had been taking this turn for a few years, arguing that the wave of national liberation movements was in line with their own battle for an “authentic” European Ethno-state.
McNallen can be best understood through his actions and ideology. The core of McNallen’s Folkish ideology is the belief in a concept known as metagenetics. Metagenetics claims culture is passed on genetically within specific groups of people. Such genetic connections to culture also determine what deities one can connect to. McNallen’s ideology also shows strong influence from Carl Jung’s Essay on Wotan written in 1936. In this essay Jung argues, based on his theory on archetypes, certain Gods are carried in the lineage of different cultures and certain people can invoke these Gods into their community. In the essay Jung claims Adolf Hitler is such an individual, asserting Hitler archetypally embodied the God Wotan.
His Asatru Folk Assembly further codifies these beliefs in the AFA’s Declaration of Principles. In it they claim only “the Peoples of the North” should practice any form of Germanic Paganism. This is further justified by claims of. Those who do not have the right ancestry are told to “drink from their own well” and leave. Folkish Asatru holds no consistent standards for what is the right or sufficient amount of ancestry to practice. In theory access to the Norse Gods, according to this form of practice, is dictated by blood heritage so anyone of the right descent should have access including a lot of non-white people. In practice the most consistent standard for determining the appropriate background is the paint swatch test.
Tribe and Tradition
McNallen has a long history with the far right. It is unclear exactly when he got involved in extreme right politics though there is little question his flirtation is decades old. The first bit of evidence is when he started his first Asatru organization, the Viking Brotherhood, in 1973 which he advertised in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine. The Asatru Free Assembly, his next major project, was started shortly after and lasted around a decade before imploding over the issue of overt white nationalism in the organization. In 1985, just before the old AFA disbanded, McNallen first published Metagenetics.
Between publishing Metagenetics and founding the Asatru Folk Assembly in 1994 McNallen worked as a freelance journalist publishing articles in magazines like Soldier of Fortune. One such example is a piece published in the fall 1994 issue claiming the end of apartheid meant South Africa would soon be consumed by race war where all whites would perish. His dressing up of these concerns in the cloth of anticommunism is a perfect example of his messaging strategies ever since.
McNallen, until his recent removal as head of the AFA, would utilize such methods very consistently. He dresses up his philosophy under the banner of diversity, claims he is focused on protecting the unique heritage of all groups, invokes Judaism, Shinto and Native Americans as justification and brandishes his support, on purely ethnocentric terms, of the Karin and Tibetan separatist movements. All of this is meant to distract from the basic white nationalist foundation of the organization.
McNallen’s ideas were rooted in tribalism, that allegiance to one’s people was bound by blood, and that brotherhood was defined racially, even if he utterly rejected the vulgarities of the neo-Nazi movement. It is this clash in concept that largely destroyed the original AFA, but it only took a couple of decades for the white nationalist movement to evolve into using the same language as McNallen.
As the Alt Right developed, McNallen was right with them with his newest formation, the Asatru Folk Assembly, where he had firmed up his own arguments about the meta-genetic Jungian roots of Asatru in the psyche of the spiritually distinct Nordics. He contributed early on for AlternativeRight.com, joining Richard Spencer on episodes of Vanguard Radio to discuss the first Thor film and the heroism of the Icelandic explorers, coding the language he used well enough to avoid finger pointing from the right and the left. The AFA helped to popularize the “folkish” interpretation of heathenry, that it was an ethnically exclusive religion, and McNallen traveled the world talking to de-colonization movements attempting to woo them into common cause. As many heathens can attest, McNallen helped to set the tone for what heathenry was, especially in the U.S., as he helped to flesh out rituals and theology, adding much of the aesthetics and depth needed to create a multifaceted tradition.
McNallen currently holds a purely ceremonial office. Day to day affairs is handled by a new triumvirate of individuals who, by some accounts, are far less subtle in their politics. There are rumors his retirement was not voluntary and he was forced out due to a shift in the AFA’s internal politics. Regardless as this was occurring and in the immediate aftermath the AFA’s increasingly open support for white nationalism inspired a backlash in the Heathen community.
In January of 2016 McNallen publicly posted his desire for the Freikorps, the infamous far right paramilitaries who formed the backbone of the Brownshirts and the SS, to come back to Germany and deal with Muslim immigration. These comments inspired immediate backlash against McNallen and his defenders.
After McNallen’s exit, AFA social media posted that the AFA was for “white men and women,” not for transgender people, and even found allies in movements like Deep Green Resistance. Their open racialism came in concert with a new commitment from heathen organizations to stand against the folkish tendency, and the Declaration 127 campaign was born, drawing from the 127th verse of the Havamal that cites the courage to stand up for what is right.
Major organizations, like the Troth, finally cut all ties, and the AFA was relegated to the only crowd left: white nationalist. This made sense since members were attending the National Policy Institute conference, hosting neo-fascist bands at Stella Natura, and helping to build much of the meta-political culture of the burgeoning Alt Right.
Part of McNallen’s separation from the AFA was his renewed commitment to white nationalist politics, doing videos for Red Ice Creations and starting the Wotan Network.
"It’s no secret that it’s my life purpose to awaken European peoples from their sleep,” says McNallen in his announcement video for the network. “This is why my heart beats, this is why I breathe.”
"Agile, hostile, and mobile” is how the decentralized network he is creating, named after Wotan who he believes distinctly motivates the white race. McNallen, though a hard polytheist, wants whites to think of Wotan as a Jungian archetype, a racially distinct machination in the minds of Norther European stock, a mode that they can tap into so as to become a warrior in defense of their racially-exclusive tribe. McNallen has made it clear that the Wotan Network was not an issue of promoting his religion, but instead about the “existence and the destiny of our people.”
In reality this means a culture war headed by racially-motivated memedom, except using the language of terror cells to play into the eschatological machinations of the Alt Right. While he expressly says it won’t be a religious project, he is calling white followers together for a sacred Blot, this one a statement of racial awakening rather than a mythic spiritual call.
The most obvious of the projects from the Wotan Network is Operation Erwache, intended to support those in Europe who are fighting the resettlement of refugees, which they believe is the “Islamization of the West” and redefine the genetic make-up of the continent.
Defend Europe and Operation Erwache
The Wotan Network’s involvement in Defend Europe is as a supporting role. Stephen McNallen posted a call to action shortly after the Wotan Network’s Facebook group was created called “AN EXERCISE IN APPLIED MEMETICS”. He put out a call for members of the Wotan Network to create memes, advertisements and propaganda material to promote Defend Europe.
The support is not surprising given McNallen and the AFA’s explicitly anti-migrant stances. This is the logical conclusion of decades of advocating racial holy war, dehumanizing migrants and leading a white nationalist organization shares parallels with broader trends in society. Trump’s election has emboldened white nationalists and the far right like nothing else, as shown by the surge in hate crimes since November 8, 2016. The surge in far right activity parallels McNallen’s removal from office at the AFA, his own increasingly militant public statements and similar surges in Alt Right activity.
Operation Erwache is a plan to seed the Internet with Wotan Network propaganda, target specific populations who McNallen feels can be won over and build their credibility with the Alt Right. Based on McNallen’s history and pattern of behavior, there is every indication that this goes beyond simple support for his ideological fellow-travelers. By spreading his influence in the he would gain greater support, publicity and visibility in the movement and society and would flood the Heathen community with activists. In one stroke, if all goes according to plan, he would secure both of his bases of support.
In many ways Defend Europe is an outgrowth of low-level neo-Nazi violence, assaults on immigrant communities and other related activities. It also fits with the existing pattern of fascist openly filching tactics, imagery and trappings from the Left with Defend Europe showing strong similarities to the activities of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Defend Europe, in spite of all the money and publicity it received, has devolved into a total farce. Beginning with being stopped in the Suez Canal for lacking proper documentation and members of the crew detained in Turkish Cyprus for human trafficking Defend Europe’s entire operation has veered from one spectacular screw-up to the next. Their troubles only continued when Tunisian fishermen successfully organized Tunisian ports to deny use of their harbors for refueling, repair and resupply. The whole tragicomic affair climaxed with the vessel adrift at sea due to a critical mechanical failure and the freezing of funding by Patreon, leaving them at the mercy of the very aid ships they sought to impede. One has to wonder if the entire thought process behind hiring the C-Star in the first place was hanging a right at the waterfront, approaching the eye-patched bartender of the first seedy dive they found and inquiring loudly with their new friend if said disreputable fellow could help them contract a trustworthy ship for engaging in piracy, kidnapping, general mayhem, murder and assorted crimes against humanity.
The credibility and money poured into the operation strongly suggests that, for now, there won’t be any similar attempts in the immediate future. Over $100,000 was sunk into this maritime comedy of errors which succeeded in setting itself adrift at sea, humiliated and in legal jeopardy. If the intent was to mobilize public support, build positive publicity and create a brand of direct action similar to Greenpeace’s famous fleet then Defend Europe was a total disaster. Yet this clear defeat should not make those engaging in antifascist work complacent or assume the Identitarian Movement and their Alt-Right allies are beaten. If anything the history of neo-fascism has shown those people are as determined as a bloated tick.
McNallen, to his benefit, does not appear to have been a central figure in organizing Defend Europe. He has also shown a consistent ability to deflect such charges and prevent them from sticking to him. After all this is the man who continued to lead the Asatru Folk Assembly for well over a decade after the Kennewick Mandebacle, an episode that would’ve destroyed a less capable demagogue. Ideological setbacks are not going to be enough to upend the Wotan Network or McNallen’s goal of installing himself as Pope of the Alt Right with Folkish Heathenry as the official dogma of the movement.
A Post-Charlottesville World
In the U.S., the Unite the Right rally on August 12th defined the conversation on the far-right for weeks as the Alt Right planned to “defend” the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. As speakers like Richard Spencer, Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, Christopher Cantwell, and Augustus Sol Invictus lined up; it began to define itself by its unwillingness to “punch right” and to include everyone from Identity Europa to the National Socialist Movement and KKK organizations. This was a solid break with the more moderate Alt Light and Patriot sphere that has been surrounding the, severing where the fissure was created during the “free speech” rallies.
McNallen jumped on board with his support for Unite the Right, promising to join the crowd in Charlottesville to stand up for “white identity.” After the image of the torchlight march from August 11th came forth, where white nationalist protesters chanted “Jews will not replace us” while surrounding a church and finally attacking protesters, McNallen put up an image of the protest with the line “where there is light, there is hope” emblazoned atop it. This was signed off on with the hashtag “#wotannetwork,” owing to his penchant for branding. The next day, one woman died and nineteen were injured as a Vanguard America associate plowed his Dodge Challenger into counter-protesters before hitting the gas in reverse and running the scene. It was both one of the largest white nationalist gatherings in twenty years, and one of the most catastrophic.
In the weeks that followed these declarations, Huginn’s Heathen Hof, a well-known Heathen blog, put out a call for a joint declaration denouncing the Asatru Folk Assembly, its doctrines and its leadership as a racist organization. Since then over a hundred Heathen organizations from all over the world have signed the statement. This has isolated the AFA from many of their former allies, lost members and pushed them into a more openly white nationalist direction. Their increasingly overt white nationalism also parallels with the broader surge in far right activity across the globe. As further splits occur after the Alt Right’s violence in Charlottesville, McNallen and the AFA’s choice to continue supporting the white nationalist contingent should further be a marker to disassociate them from the heathen community they desperately want to define.
What will do the job is quarantining his followers, support network and those advancing his ideology under other names. Declaration 127 is a powerful example of how collective action can contain such groups and lay the foundation for effective confrontation of their politics, ideology and works. Even with this potent precedent more needs to be done. The Asatru Folk Assembly is, sadly, not the lone example of Folkish Heathenry or fascist ideologyactive in Paganism.
Anti-Fascist Pagans are uniquely positioned to counter ideologues like Stephen McNallen, Augustus Sol Invictus and any others who spring up in the coming days. We live in times that are a greenhouse for fascism yet they are not the only ones who benefit. The scales have fallen from the eyes of many as the greed, exploitation and disregard for human life at the root of Neo-Liberal Capitalism is made plain for all to see. Just as these conditions have given rise to fascism they are also providing potent fuel for a Left that has been deprived of oxygen and space for far too long. In society and spirituality an understanding of ethics, practice and values centered on human needs over human greed has become more possible than it ever has at any point since 1917.
Even with the opportunity at hand victory is not assured. Organizing, mass education, and mutual aid projects plants the seeds of the new society, providing a vision that can really unseat fascist resurgence. The danger of fascist groups, ideologies and organizations, cannot be underestimated either. At one time this movement was used as a dagger to plunge into the heart of the left and humane alternatives to the status quo. Its steel was wielded to keep the people in line during the Cold War. Now, facing either exploitation or barbarity, there is an opportunity to change the dynamic. In and out of our spiritual communities we can transform how people view human relations, society and community. That can only happen through confronting fascism's threat, and a movement that goes beyond its insurrection and heads to the roots of the system that birthed it.
Ryan Smith is a Heathen devoted to Odin living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism, a founding member of Golden Gate Kindred, is active in the environmental justice and anti-police brutality movements, and recently completed his Masters in modern Middle East History and economics.
Shane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1