MURDOCK — Carrying lighted candles and a lighted sign, a small group of people strode quietly but surely through residential streets Thursday night in Murdock, an autumn nip in the air.
The group of 16 men and women made their way to the sidewalk in front of the former Calvary Lutheran Church, which is now the Third Hof, or gathering hall, of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a small group of pagan white supremacists.
The men and women gathered Thursday chose to hold a quiet, candlelight vigil to make it clear that their protest of the arrival of the Asatru Folk Assembly to this small Swift County community was a peaceful one. But don’t expect the newly formed Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate to be silent.
“We have to to stand up and say I’m not OK with this and I am not going to wait and see what happens,” its organizer, Victoria Guillemard, told the West Central Tribune.
The new group’s goal, said Guillemard and others, is to speak up and inform people about their concerns about the Asatru Folk Assembly.
If people simply stay quiet and welcome the Asatru Folk Assembly, it will be free to spread a message of racism in the community and surrounding area, participants in the vigil said.
It was just over two months ago that the vigil participants said they learned that the Asatru Folk Assembly had purchased the vacant church building in Murdock.
The Asatru Folk Assembly describes itself as “an expression of the native, pre-Christian spirituality of Europe.” The group's Statement of Ethics page on its website explicitly calls for community separation along ethnic lines.
The new owners of the church building say they have been "warmly greeted by the local folk of our new community," according to a post on their Facebook Page, "Baldurshof: Third Hof of the Asatru Folk Assembly."
"People waving and stopping by to welcome us to the neighborhood. It was unbelievable to say the least," the Facebook post states.
Laura Thomas of Benson, who helped organize the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate, said her research of the Asatru Folk Assembly made her very concerned about the newcomers to town. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies it as an “extreme hate group,” she told those who gathered on Thursday night. The center calls it a white supremacist organization.
The Assembly members have been busy, arriving on weekends to restore the long-vacant building and spruce up its grounds, according to local Murdock residents and the group’s Facebook page. Most of the vehicles have out-of-state license plates, mainly from the Dakotas, according to the local residents.
The group says it is not racist, but the group's leader, Matthew Flavel, spoke at a 2018 event that also celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, according to an earlier report on the group published in the West Central Tribune. Flavel in the speech described Asatru Fellowship Assembly beliefs as a “white man’s religion.”
Pam Skoglund was among those carrying the lighted candles Thursday through the streets of Murdock. Her children were all baptized in the Calvary Lutheran Church, where she and and her family worshipped until its closing several years ago. “I find it very upsetting, sad, very sad,” she said of the church building’s purchase by the Asatru Fellowship Assembly.
“It’s awful to see that someplace that was there to spread love is encouraging hate,” said Karen Falk, also a former member of Calvary Lutheran who joined the candlelight vigil.
Those who joined the vigil said they wanted it known that Murdock is a welcoming community to all people. The Rev. Denise Fossen, pastor of the Kerkhoven Lutheran Church, said she joined the vigil to speak out against those who oppress others.
Guillemard is a law student living with her mother, Annelle, in Murdock, where she grew up. Mother and daughter said they were surprised when they learned about the purchase of the church building. To start the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate, a group of mothers got together to decide what to do, Victoria said. Their desire, she said, is to keep Murdock as a welcoming and safe community.
Guillemard said the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate will start its efforts to inform people in the area about the Asatru Folk Assembly by launching its own Facebook page. Her hope is that at some point, the group can host an open — and COVID-safe — meeting to provide information about it.