Racism in Paganism: The QAnon Guy and the U.S. Capitol

I wanted to write a different article this week. But I feel compelled to discuss a long-standing issue within Heathenry, as well as Paganism as a whole.

Photos have been spreading around pagan circles about the man pictured below because of his tattoos. If you do not know, a riot attacked the U.S. Congress, roaming the Capitol Building for most of the afternoon on January 6th. This person was among them, and that’s where these photos were taken.

I, along with others, was worried about the consequences of the symbols of the Valknut, World Tree, and Mjolnir at a situation like this. Whether or not this man was pagan, I knew that it was only a matter of time before people asked questions about these symbols and pagans would have to answer and explain. And it’s been happening all over social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit.

Then, on January 8th, Rolling Stone plastered this hobbled together article onto the internet. And in the second paragraph, the author, Kim Kelly, wrote that “heathen” is a “code for white-supremacy-aligned pagans.”

From the Rolling Stone article on January 8.

To be clear: our religious symbols have been coopted by racists, and the symbols themselves are not racist. And, as should be obvious to most pagans, “heathen” is an identity term for pagans who worship Germanic deities or use Germanic traditions in their practice. But in the public eye, “heathen” and “mjolnir” are hateful words for hate-filled people.

And while I know it can be difficult for non-pagans to understand the intertwined history of Viking romanticism, Nazism, and Paganism, Kelly literally cited the ADL and Heathens Against Hate. Her others citations – from Political Research Association’s article to The Atlantic’s article – also distinguish racist heathens from Heathenry at large. It is obvious that Kelly and Rolling Stone not only didn’t care to actually read their sources, they didn’t care about the defaming nonsense they wrote about Heathenry.

While I and many others are extraordinarily angry, I wanted to take the time to summarize the issue of racism within Paganism. I also wanted to collect as many resources as I could on the subject, so that others may be able to educate themselves. There are a lot of links, but I encourage everyone to take the time to learn. Please see full titles for these articles under my Sources section at the end of the article.

First and foremost, I want to tell pagans who are POC and LGBTQ+ that you are welcome in pagan circles. We want you here. I believe Paganism promotes plurality, and so it promotes diversity in many forms. You are valued and you are wanted in the Pagan community. I am not alone in this belief, and we stand by you. If you are looking for anti-racist pagan resources, I suggest Heathen’s Against Hate’s (HAH) Resources as well as Althaea Sebastiani’s pagan resource list.

White Supremacy Through History and Today

Several topics on racism have been covered very well by Ben and Lauren of the Heathen History Podcast. From the German Romantics, to the British Viking revival to racism in the U.S. to the founding of the AFA, they have extensively covered correlation between racism in a modern context, as well as racism in modern Heathenry. Episode 32 of The Nordic Mythology Podcast also discusses the history of racism as it pertains to paganism with HAH’s Ethan Stark. I highly encourage people to listen to this podcast in particular.

As a short summary of these fascinating pods, I can say the dangerous and misguided romanticization of war-band cultures as superior ‘white’ cultures culminated in the greatest modern tragedy known to man. These notions originated from the German Romantics/Nationalists and the British Viking Revivalists primarily, but continued and adapted over time. Eventually, these ideas fueled the Nazi ideology of the 1930s, who took the world to war and perpetrated the Shoah, when 6 million Jewish people – among several other groups, including LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities – were systematically murdered.

White supremacy still rears its head in full force today. Literal Nazis have been in the U.S. since Hitler’s time. You can read this article about the little-known history of Nazis in the U.S. But recently there has been coverage on right-wing ideologies and white supremacy in the U.S. and in Europe. You can see the BBC’s analysis of right-wing nationalism in Europe. There is also an in-depth article on white supremacy here. And Frontline/ProPublica made a documentary on these topics here.

Racist Pagans

Racist heathens and pagans often sport traditional values that are also sexist and homophobic. Even the origins of Heathenry in the U.S. were notably racist. From The Asatru Folk Assembly to The Viking Brotherhood to other forms of Odinism, folkish or volkish Heathen groups have long existed. Several others have written specifically on the AFA and their policies, please see here and here. The idea of ‘folkish’ heathenry implies everything you may think of: promoting white, normative families that take us to the 50’s on steroids. The Wild Hunt, a major Pagan news source, has written several times on paganism and racism, see here and here for recent articles. Luke Babb also wrote a recent article on The Wild Hunt in this opinion piece in light of the Capitol Hill attack. Babb specifically discusses how the QAnon Guy is appropriating Native American headdresses with the outfit he wore at Capitol Hill.

Outside of Paganism, The Southern Poverty Law Center has also reported on Odinism. Here, they say: “But in the United States, where insiders say 15 percent of Asatrúers follow an overtly racist version of the theology, a struggle is now going on for the hearts and minds of its followers.” This would not surprise a Heathen, as we are aware of our racist extremists. However, I assume this would surprise Rolling Stone. Even VICE Magazine has done better journalism than them.

All shade aside, racism in Paganism is important for all of us to understand and acknowledge. As I recently read on a Tumblr post, racist heathens are *our* trash. We must acknowledge their existence and we cannot pretend we don’t see it, or don’t need to address it. However I, and many others, refuse to give these a seat at our table. (While I mean the metaphorical table of Paganism, I also mean literally. Hospitality may be a sacred act, but Frith should not be given to racists.)

And while I have many discussed racist Heathen groups so far, it doesn’t mean that racism passes over other forms of paganism. Rodnovery – a common title for Slavic Paganism – has its own split between groups who are either racist or inclusive. The Slavic Polytheist has a response here.

And several groups within Hellenic Paganism are either homophobic or are anti-Semetic, militant extremists. And some Neo-Nazi groups are even ‘re-branding‘ Nazi salutes as ‘Roman salutes.’ Let’s not forget that what Hitler said about Vikings and Germans, Mussolini said about the Roman Empire. Here is a list of several problematic Hellenic organizations with some sources. (This list even includes Hellenion, a group I have cited in one of my articles, which I must now reconsider.)

The Hellenic Faith posted a detailed response on racism or “folkish” pagans. Again, this is our trash. White supremacy, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry are in our religious and spiritual movements, and all pagans should be aware of and speak out against them.

So Who is the QAnon Guy?

Trust me when I say the QAnon Guy is not even nearly the first example of people using Heathen symbols to claim racial superiority. And he will not be the last.

The Wild Hunt – Kindreds bless them – took it upon themselves to take a close look at this person and posted an article the next day about the attack on Capitol Hill. While this man’s Facebook is now private, TWH confirmed from his profile that he is not part of any Heathen or Pagan groups on Facebook. I have been told from another person that he was part of the same esoteric group, but that was all. The Wild Hunt also confirmed that he used terms like “Jesus” and “Amen” on Facebook, suggesting he is Christian.

We often joke that over-the-top Viking LARPer fanboys and “Asatru Bros” are oh-so cringey, but there is a larger problem the pagan community needs to address more often. Modern heathens often dress in Viking-esque garb for ritual or get tattoos or wear jewelry with Viking-era symbols. Viking-era Scandinavians are the most well-preserved Germanic polytheist cultures, after all.

But there are centuries of white superiority and racism embedded in the fanatical romanticization of the Vikings. And these racist fanboys are placing our sacred symbols and our connection to polytheist ancestors into the public eye as symbols of hate. We cannot allow the Mjolnir, or other symbols, to be seen as a symbol of hate. While I am grateful to Heathens Against Hate and the Anti-Defamation League for adding the Thor’s Hammer to their website, this is not enough.

Make no mistake: these people are harming Heathenry, and they are harming Paganism. I have even had a friend (who shall remain anonymous) whose non-pagan friend just recently told them they practice Satanism and they won’t be friends anymore. The Satanic Panic started nearly forty years ago and its stigma has not gone away. As a minority religious group(s), we need to take negative representations seriously. Every. Time. I seriously encourage every pagan who has a presence on social media to make a statement about inclusivity and about the importance of our sacred symbols. I encourage every pagan who is willing to discuss this issue with their friends and family.

Responses to the QAnon Guy by Pagans

There are several Heathen organizations who have made statements, including Heathens Against Hate, The Troth, Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and Forn Sidr of America. Even the Confederation of UK Heathen Kindreds, Asatru UK, and The Pagan Federation made a joint statement on The Pagan Federation’s Facebook page. [Edit: As of January 10th, The Longship has also made a statement about the attack.]

I have also seen several statement’s from individuals. This includes Wisdom of Odin’s statement on Instagram, as well as Folklore and Fiction’s Facebook post, which I have used as a picture below, which has 150 shares as of this writing.

Needless to say, the QAnon Guy has not only struck a cord with heathens, but also with pagans. He has not only prompted responses from pagans in the US, but also in the UK and Canada.

I encourage pagans and non-pagans alike to learn about racism in paganism. While I personally hate to gloss over history, I have linked good sources that have done a lot of work to eloquently discuss the history. And while I want to stay away from news and politics on this blog, I have not yet discussed racism in paganism. I felt I could not delay in an article like this after the attack on Capitol Hill.

Remember, we are our deeds.

“When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frith.”Hávamál 127

[Edit: While many in Heathen circles are referring to the QAnon Guy as ‘Bison Guy’ or ‘Bison Bob’ and so on, I no longer feel it is appropriate to use the term we searched for in the hours and days directly after the events on January 6th. Hence I have changed how I reference him in this article.]

[Jan 11th Edit: As of today, Rolling Stone changed the wording on the article I referenced in the beginning of this piece. It now reads as below:

This is a marked improvement, in my opinion. While heathens overall have had a lukewarm reaction to it, I am grateful to everyone who responded to Rolling Stone directly. I am grateful to pagans who have posted their own anti-racism statements online. And I am grateful to Kim Kelly, for listening to the community and changing her words.]

Sources

All articles accessed January (6th-9th) 2020. [Edit: The Longship’s website was accessed January 11th.]

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