MURDOCK — A decision by the Murdock City Council to approve a conditional use permit for the Asatru Folk Assembly to use a former Lutheran church as its “hof” and place of worship has generated tension in the community — and resolve.
One day after that decision, an organizer for the Murdock Alliance Against Hate said the members of the citizens group are as committed as ever to oppose the message of white supremacy she believes the Asatru Folk Assembly espouses.
“We have a very specific goal in mind and that is to let the Asatru Folk Assembly know just how unwelcome they are in this town,” said Victoria Guillemard Thursday when asked what are the next steps for the group.
The Asatru Folk Assembly purchased and rehabilitated a former Lutheran church building located along U.S. Highway 12 in Murdock. The group learned after the purchase that the building had been previously rezoned for residential use. A conditional use permit was thus required for the building to be used by the group for gatherings. The assembly also owns property in North Carolina and California.
The Asatru Folk Assembly practices a pre-Christian faith and has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its whites-only belief system and current and former leaders espousing racist ideology.
Guillemard said there was tension in the community after the City Council vote Wednesday night, but she said the community should not divide itself over the council's decision. She said she believes that City Council members do not welcome the message of the group. She believes their concern over the threat of a lawsuit led them to their decision.
During Wednesday's meeting, Murdock Mayor Craig Kavanagh emphasized that council members had to consider it as a zoning matter and not on how council members might feel about the group. And City Attorney Don Wilcox told council members there was no evidence that the Asatru Folk Assembly’s use of the building would violate the city’s conditional use permit standards.
The ongoing presence of the Asatru Folk Assembly in the town means it will be all the more important for the alliance to unite the community against white supremacy, Guillemard said. The citizens will be working to educate people and will be opening a public discussion through open forums on racism and its dangers, she said.
More than ever, it’s important to make sure that the “residents of color who are so afraid for their families and young children know they are supported,” she said.
“The most dangerous part is just their presence alone is threatening to people of color, and that is a valid threat,” said Guillemard. “(The) presence of someone who believes you are lesser and they are legally allowed to do that.”
The Murdock Alliance Against Hate is also concerned that the Asatru Folk Assembly presence in town serves to “normalize” its white supremacist message and allows it to recruit members in the region and beyond.
In its resolution, council members stated that threats of violence are matters for law enforcement. Guillemard pointed out that the community of just under 300 people does not have its own police force. It relies on the Swift County Sheriff’s Office in Benson for law enforcement, and because of it, help can be 30 minutes away.
The Asatru Folk Assembly told council members in October that it will be a good neighbor. Guillemard said Murdock Alliance Against Hate members believe from contacts with others that the assembly puts on a “good front” of being a good neighbor, “but behind closed doors they are anything but.”
“The bright spot in all of this,” she said, “is having such an obviously violent white supremacist group in town means we have resources available to us we didn’t even know were there in the first place.”
She said groups from around the country have offered support, including some that might be surprising. A group known as the Heathens Against Hate has contacted her to offer support.
The citizen group's first goal is to see Murdock take on the difficult challenge of opening a conversation about racism and what the community can do to unite against it. Like most small communities, Murdock has a long history of being reactive to issues. It’s time to become proactive and address issues before they cause harm, she said, and the Murdock Alliance Against Hate members want to make that happen.
The members are also committed to monitoring the Asatru Folk Assembly and its activities in the year ahead. The conditional use permit is for one year, and the Murdock Alliance Against Hate will be back to the council, she said.
West Central Tribune staff writer Mark Wasson contributed to this story.