Council members in a Minnesota town have voted to grant a white supremacist group a permit to gather at an abandoned church building.
The Swift County community of Murdock voted anonymously by a 3-1 vote at a virtual meeting on Dec. 9 to grant a conditional use permit to the Asatru Folk Assembly church.
The council had been warned prior to voting that denying the request could violate the church group’s religious rights. The all-white Nordic heritage church has also been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
During voting, council members kept their cameras off and did not identify how they voted.
“There has been a lot of concern on this topic in the city of Murdock and rightfully so. We just want to be clear we are not discussing race with our decision. This is strictly a zoning issue,” Mayor Craig Kavanaugh emphasized in a statement to KARE 11. “We as the leaders of the City of Murdock want it be known that the city of Murdock condemns racism in all of its forms: conscious, unconscious, any place, any time, now and in the future. We are committed to building a community that promotes equal justice and opportunity to every single person regardless of their race.”
Months ago, the AFA expressed its intention to buy the old Lutheran church on Highway 12, about 110 miles from Minneapolis, in Murdock. After buying the building, the group applied for the Conditional Use permit, because the property was classified as residential.
Community members expressed concerns about the group’s intentions at a hearing in October.
Allen Turnage, a speaker for the group, said the AFA isn’t a hate organization but confirmed that only white people can be a part of the group.
“We believe that as Northern Europeans, this is not only our birthright but our obligation to maintain that ancestral memory,” Turnage Turnage told KARE 11. “And to give worship if that’s the right word. Worship and fealty to our gods and our ancestors.”
“I think the best analogy is that we view our gods as our ancestors,” he said. “If we have a family reunion, it’s only our family.”
The AFA is an ethnic faith movement that was revived in Iceland in the 1970s. Church members believe in being loyal and faithful to the gods of pre-Christian Europe.
Murdock city attorney Don Wilcox said the group is protected by the Constitution and is allowed to practice freedom of religion.
“You can’t use zoning to keep an organization like that out, whoever they are,” Wilcox said.
Kavanaugh also expressed concern that the community would face legal troubles if it denied the group the permit.
“We were told there was a 99 percent chance we would lose in court,” he said. “And it would be federal court for an issue like this. It didn’t feel like that was the best decision to me and we were advised against denying it by multiple sources.”
After the vote, the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate issued a statement on Facebook, writing: “Residents no longer feel safe with the presence of the Asatru Folk Assembly in their community. Any anger, fear, or resentment about the new reality Murdock faces should be focused towards the future of Murdock. The AFA has made this our new reality, and we need to set our sights on how we make it safe and free for the people of Murdock and the surrounding communities.”
Those who opposed granting the permit said they will watch closely to see if the group violates any of the conditions of the contract.
An online petition on Change.org was launched by an individual named Eridan Ampora to “Stop the Asatru Folk Assembly from creating an all white church in Murdock Minnesota.” The petition was launched on Dec. 11 and has since garnered just over 52,000 signatures with a goal of reaching 75,000. Ampora’s plea read, in part, “Please share and sign this petition as well as sending it to Minnesota’s government and the Murdock city council. we NEED to stop this.”