What do the original host of the Wheel of Fortune and the author of Fight Club have in common? They’re both acquainted with a member of a neo-pagan group that celebrates a guy who tried to burn down a black church.
You read that right.
Wolves of Vinland is a small but increasingly well-connected group based outside Lynchburg, Virginia. Members of the group—as well as their admirers in the white supremacist Internet-sphere—are surprisingly candid about their practices, beliefs, and goals. Some of the group’s activities are par for the course, at least as far as neo-pagans are concerned. But other elements of their community are deeply disturbing, especially in light of the recent arrests of two neo-pagan white supremacists who lived just two hours north of them and allegedly conspired to bomb black churches.
The group has been around for about a decade, and is helmed by two brothers, Paul and Matthias Waggener.
“Honor and being a good man is based around never making your tribe look weak,” Paul Waggener said in an interview posted Sept. 13 of this year on YouTube.
In order to join, members must take oaths of loyalty to the tribe.
“When I say tribe, family, whatever, that’s a very very well understood idea that these people are inside and those people are outside,” he added.
The group’s members appear to be all white, based on dozens of pictures they post to their Facebook page, and they ascribe to a brand of neo-pagan Norse theology that white supremacists often find appealing. As the blog Fools of Vinland details, leading white nationalist Brad Griffin has praised the Wolves of Vinland’s efforts.
“The bulk of WN (White Nationalism) is an online thing. There are only a handful of exceptions,” Griffin wrote. “I used to live in VA and saw first hand what the Wolves are building. They are sort of an outlier though. It might be the leading example of a real world WN (White Nationalist) community in the North American continent.”
Reached for comment over Facebook, the group didn’t dispute being characterized as white nationalist.
Social media has been good to them. They crowd-funded an effort to build a viking long hall, and a GoFundMe page indicates they got the $3,000 they needed. The white supremacist Counter-Currents Publishing promoted their fundraising efforts.
“This is a worthwhile project,” reads a post on the publisher’s Facebook page. “Our people need meeting spaces of our own, outside the control of a hostile system. Christian, Heathen, or none of the above: help make this happen.”
And it happened, as the group’s Facebook page shows.
Photos show the members—often heavily tattooed—gather in the Virginia woods for heathen ceremonies where they drink mead, spread mud and blood on themselves, dance around fires, and hold rituals in caves. They also sacrifice animals, sometimes posting pictures of the remains on Instagram and Facebook (as one member did here).
Because pagans gonna pagan.
But it’s not just fights and games. There’s a chilling motif that appears throughout the group’s pictures: T-shirts that read “Free Hjalti,” a reference to Wolves of Vinland member Maurice Michaely who was sentenced to spend two and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to burning a historic black church. Facebook postings show him free from prison, reunited with his pals, and busily building that Viking hall.
But the bizarre nature of this cult hasn’t kept some of the group’s prominent members from securing comparatively mainstream credibility.
Jack Donovan, who’s written extensively about the glory of Wolves of Vinland (and who recently lectured at the white supremacist National Policy Institute conference in D.C.) figures prominently in the group. He sat with the Waggeners for the interview where they espoused the importance of keeping your tribesmen from looking weak.
Donovan recently discussed his interesting views about masculinity on Chuck Woolery’s podcast—yes, THAT Chuck Woolery, the former host of Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection your grandparents loved. Woolery is a bit of a conservative Twitter star, to the extent that’s a thing that exists, and has a loyal Twitter following of more than 120,000 people. His advertising agency didn’t respond to a request for comment on his decision to use his star power to promote a guy who beheads chickens and hangs out with a church-burner.
Perhaps more curiously, Donovan recently palled around with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. Donovan posted a picture on Instagram about three months ago of the two men in a cheery embrace.
“So ‘Fight Club’ author Chuck Palahniuk stopped by my office today to talk about masculinity and choke me out,” Donovan wrote. “#fightclub #wolvesofvinland #operationwerewolf #opww #masculinity”
In another Instagram post, Donovan thanked Palahniuk for sending him copies of his new comic book.
“These will be a great break on the flight to D.C. this week for #NPI,” Donovan wrote, referring to the annual white supremacist gathering at the National Press Club.
Palahniuk’s agent, Todd Doughty, said the author has no affiliation with the Wolves of Vinland.
“They are acquaintances, and when asked for a photo in Portland, Oregon Chuck obliged with his standard pose (as he does with most of his readers—see photo link),” Doughty emailed.
So while Wolves of Vinland has had some success associating its members with prominent figures, it’s also successfully recruited new members from organizations of some significance on the political right. Amanda Prevette, who’s listed as a marketing coordinator for the website World Net Daily, posted pictures on her Facebook updating her friends about the progress of building the viking hall. In her previous job as a reporter for Campus Reform, a publication of the conservative Leadership Institute, she wrote a piece about a guy named Devin Saucier attending one of that group’s trainings. Saucier a member of Youth for Western Civilization, another white supremacist group, is pictured in some photos of Wolves of Vinland gatherings.
Kevin DeAnna, a former guest speaker for the Leadership Institute, also pops up at Wolves of Vinland events. DeAnna has also written for Campus Reform. None of these individuals responded to requests for comment.
The Wolves of Vinland aren’t the only Virginia neo-pagans who harbor a high tolerance level for white supremacist attacks on black churches. But, as far as your correspondent can tell, they’re the only ones who hold the ear of a former game show host and the author of Fight Club. And though social media makes it easy to spot animal-sacrificing neo-Norsemen who defend church-burners, it also makes it easier for their ideas to spread. Technology is helpful, even if you’re trying to be a Viking.