MURDOCK — After a whites-only religious group set up shop, national attention, the good and the bad, shined on Murdock, disrupting this town of fewer than 300 people.
Newspaper articles and television stories in large-market media like the Washington Post, VICE and NBC painted the town and City Council as racist, it seemed to many readers and viewers, who often voiced their disgust online.
An online petition was set up on change.org, blasting the small Swift County community for approving a conditional use permit for the Asatru Folk Assembly to practice its Nordic faith in an old Lutheran church building the group had purchased.
A whites-only Nordic faith, yes, but a faith nonetheless. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Asatru Folk Assembly 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.”
Facing a potential lawsuit, as advised by the town’s attorney, the Murdock City Council voted 3-1 earlier this month to allow the group's use of the old Lutheran church that sits on U.S. Highway 12.
The virtual City Council meeting on that vote lacked transparency as cameras were off, the speakers on the audio were not identified and there was not an immediate roll call vote. The West Central Tribune wrote an editorial criticizing the Murdock City Council's meeting process when approving the conditional use permit. The Minneapolis Star Tribune penned an editorial criticizing the white heritage group coming to Murdock.
The change.org petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, is asking for money. Who created the petition remains a mystery as the name on the petition, Eridan Ampora, is from an online character.
Victoria Guillemard, an organizer for Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate, which was formed in opposition to the Asatru Folk Assembly, openly questions the purpose of the petition, writing on Facebook that the core organizers of the local alliance have had nothing to do with it.
“Whoever did start the petition has been asking for monetary donations,” Guillemard wrote on the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate private Facebook page. “This raises big red flags for us, as we do not take donations nor have we been contacted about where to direct any donations. Where that money is going is a complete mystery to us.”
Murdock’s Mayor, Craig Kavanagh, along with the City Council, posted a statement in both Spanish and English in response to the conditional use permit vote.
The statement tells the town’s Hispanic community that the vote was not an approval of the Asatru Folk Assembly's racist beliefs but was a zoning issue, and ultimately a First Amendment issue. If they voted against it, they would likely lose in federal court, causing a burden on the town.
“We can assure you that we support the Hispanic community in our city and always will,” the statement reads. “This decision doesn't change that. This is a great small town and I'm glad they are part of it. Our Hispanic citizens of Murdock and across the area are of great value to our community. The diversity we have is what makes Murdock a great place to live.”
Threats of violence to the city by people upset with the vote, along with fear from the presence of a white supremacist organization in town, has led to a new contract with the Swift County Sheriff’s Office for dedicated hours of patrol.
“We don't work so hard to let it all fall apart,” reads the town’s statement. “Media and other people in this world are trying to tear us apart right now. If we stick together as a community, there's nothing standing in our way,” the statement reads. “This is our town! This is your city! This is Murdock! Be proud! We can handle this!”
Guillemard wrote via email that the people most negatively impacted by potential violence in Murdock are residents of color and residents in poverty.
“Change can happen without violence,” Guillemard wrote. “What we need now more than ever is support for the residents whose lives are at risk because of the AFA's presence in Murdock. I've seen a lot of comments criticizing Murdock as a safe haven for white supremacists, and that type of criticism erases both the residents of color who live and work in the Murdock area, as well as the residents who are working to keep them safe.”
On the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate Facebook page, Guillemard wrote that the group can support the mayor and the City Council while also pushing them to do more.
“But for today,” Guillemard wrote, “(the city's statement) gives me hope that maybe we can create some positive change in Murdock.”