MURDOCK — A small group of pagan white supremacists recently bought property in western Minnesota in an effort to spread their ideology and give members a more solid base of operation in the region.

The purchase of the former Calvary Lutheran Church in Murdock, originally reported by the blog Bluestem Prairie, is the third purchase by the Asatru Folk Assembly, also known as the AFA, with other properties in North Carolina and California, according to the group's website.

The Murdock City Council, on the advice of the city attorney, is not commenting on the group other than they’re aware of the purchase and that the property is zoned for residential, according to Murdock City Clerk Kim Diederich.

“He is just advising us to not comment about any of it right now as we do not know a lot about the group and really what they can do with the property as it is in a residential zone so he doesn’t want us to say anything out of context until we all learn more about them and their intentions,” Diederich wrote in an email.

A handful of people in Murdock, a Swift County town of fewer than 300, told the West Central Tribune they weren’t comfortable talking about the group because they also did not know enough about them.

What does the group do?

The AFA is a rebranding of the Asatru Free Assembly created by white supremacist Stephen McNallen in the 1970s. McNallen passed leadership of the group to Matthew Flavel in 2016, according to its website.

The AFA uses nordic imagery and mythos to recruit white people to become members.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the AFA as part of the neo-Volkisch belief system, a pagan belief that is based around pre-Christian white Europeans and “the preservation of what they claim are dead or dying cultures.”

Like most religions, paganism is not inherently racist, but white nationalists can co-opt a belief system to push ahistorical narratives that focus on the fear of the destruction of the white race. White nationalists are often obsessed with the purity of future white children in order to reinstate, what they view, as the golden age of western civilization.

The AFA’s website explicitly calls for community separation along ethnic lines and apparent calls to defend against a nonexistent threat.

“Our members should strive to be ready for the challenge to defend our folk, Gods and Goddesses with both cunning and physical skill when needed. We should be prepared to stand against those forces which would seek to destroy our Gods and Folk,” reads a portion of the site's Statement of Ethics page.

In a March 3, 2017, YouTube video titled “What Stephen McNallen Really Thinks About Race!” McNallen twice recites the 14 words, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” which is a slogan popular with white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

In the video, McNallen says white people have a responsibility to protect the white race.

“The mainstream media, the left establishment and all the usual suspects have declared that this statement is racist,” McNallen states in the video. “It is not racist. It is not white supremacist. It is not bigoted. It is in no way expressing hostility toward any racial group.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, David Lane, a member of the white supremacist terrorist organization The Order, is credited with creating the 14-word slogan.

Lane and another member of The Order were found responsible for the 1984 assassination of Jewish radio host Alan Berg and the robbery of $3.6 million from an armored car. Lane was sentenced to 190 years for his crimes but died in 2007.

According to a July 2020 Facebook Live chat with supporters, Flavel told Asatru Free Assembly members to get to know people in order to counteract negative feelings about the group.

“The enemies of our folk have used name calling and humiliation to make our people ashamed of themselves and ashamed of allowing any pride or any spark of pride to develop and take root in their heart,” Flavel said in the video.

When speaking to the media, AFA members often cite food drives they do for the communities they are in as an example of why they aren’t racist.

In March 2018, Flavel, the group’s current leader, spoke at the Northwest Forum, an annual event in Washington hosted by Counter-Currents Publishing, which seeks to legitimize a white ethnostate and has published white nationalist Richard Spencer and neo-Nazis Andrew Anglin and Matthew Parrot, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The forum seeks to bring far-right speakers together to exchange ideas. Previous speakers have included Holocaust deniers Kevin MacDonald and Charles Krafft and white nationalist Jared Taylor, publisher of the now defunt American Renaissance magazine which put on events attended by people like neo-Nazi and former Klan member Don Black.

Flavel took a speaking spot from Michael “Enoch” Peinovich, a racist, anti-semite and conspiracy theorist podcaster whose claim to fame is creating an anti-Semitic meme to identify people with Jewish background, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

During the speech, Flavel tried to convince the gathered white supremacists to join his group, calling it a “white man’s religion” and that they seek to recruit those searching for a community to join as members.

The forum also celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, at the same event.

In an April 2018 post on the AFA’s website, Flavel wrote that he was honored to speak at the event.

“These folks gave us great hospitality and a fantastic event,” Flavel wrote. “Mandy (Flavel’s significant other) and I met some great people and we had the opportunity to introduce a lot of folks to Asatru.”

Group leaders in Minnesota and North Dakota

The AFA also lists multiple group officials across the world on its website, with Jason Gallagher and Anna Funk focusing on Minnesota and Blaine Qualls Jr. in North Dakota.

Qualls was married in 2017 during the groups annual Fall Fest celebration in Minnesota, according to a Sept. 10, 2017, YouTube video where Gallagher directs the camera to cover a smattering of participants.

An email listed for Gallagher on the AFA’s website did not respond for a request for comment by the time this story was published.

Qualls was shot by police during a 1994 shootout in Kentucky, as reported by Bluestem Prairie. Qualls was 21 at the time and served about nine years in prison in Kentucky for the incident, according to Bluestem Prairie.

Qualls told Bluestem Prairie he has since turned his life around and cited the AFA’s dedication to helping people as a defense against claims that the group is racist.

In the same video where Flavel told members to present themselves as upstanding citizens, Flavel asks members to donate to help with the building they purchased in Murdock.

A donation of $500 gets you a plaque.