CRAZY FOR DIXIE

Inside Virginia’s Church-Burning Werewolf White Supremacist Cult

The FBI arrested two men for planning to start a race war by burning churches. But the white supremacist cults they belonged to are all the rage in parts of Southern Virginia.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Viking-inspired white supremacists trying to terrorize black Christians in the South: not as rare as you think.

News broke yesterday that the FBI arrested two young men under the suspicion that they were planning to start a race war by bombing black churches in their home state of Virginia. The men, Robert Doyle and Ronald Chaney, allegedly ascribe to an Icelandic pagan faith called Asatru that has a disturbingly large following among white supremacists.

The faith itself doesn’t seek to endorse or promulgate racist or anti-Semitic views. But you could be forgiven for thinking it does, given its strange appeal to Nazis and other sundry bigots.

Asatru is a pagan religion that draws on Norse mythology. It is related to Odinism, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, and some use the terms interchangeably. Its defenders say the religion itself isn’t inherently bigoted. But many white supremacists find it appealing because, unlike Christianity, it isn’t influenced by Judaism. If you think the KKK is soft on the Jews because it’s Christian-friendly, Asatru might be for you.

The SPLC notes that Odinism, which has ties to Asatru, played an important role in some corners of Nazism.

“Its Nordic/Teutonic mythology was a bedrock belief for key Third Reich leaders,” the group noted in a 1998 write-up, “and it was an integral part of the initiation rites and cosmology of the elite Schutzstaffel, which supervised Adolf Hitler’s network of death camps.” Asatru apologists seem to recognize that it has a bit of a PR problem.

Nazi affection for Asatru wasn’t a fluke. David Lane, a white supremacist terrorist who died in prison, promoted the religion while incarcerated. And it has gained significant traction in the prison population; the Anti-Defamation League wrote in a 2002 report that it was one of the faiths that incarcerated white supremacists found most often. The men arrested for allegedly trying to start a race war “may have met in prison, where all were des­ig­nated by prison offi­cials as white suprema­cists while in cus­tody,” the ADL notes.

“Accord­ing to the FBI, the sus­pects were adher­ents of a white suprema­cist vari­ety of Asatru­ism,” the group added.

And they aren’t the only young white men to target black churches in Virginia.

In 2012, Maurice Thompson Michaely pleaded guilty to arson—specifically, to charges of Unlawfully Entering Property of Another with the Intent to Damage and Maliciously Destroying or Defacing Church Property, according to the Bristow Beat. Michaely tried to burn down a historic black church, the 135-year-old Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The fire didn’t injure anyone since the building wasn’t occupied when he attempted to burn it down. However, the fire caused about $1 million of damage, according to ABC affiliate WJLA and he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

According to social media screenshots on the Fools of Vinland blog, Michaely goes by the name Hjalti and is part of a group based outside Lynchburg, Va., called Wolves of Vinland.

When The Daily Beast reached out to the group via Facebook message, the person who runs the account replied, “It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is our plan.”

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Matthias Waggener, one prominent member of the group, described it as an “Odinic Wolfcult.”

He also said the group practices animal sacrifice.

“It is a tool that can heighten the function of the human mind to a state where it can open doors that appear closed or non existent to the normal state of observation,” he said, according to Hunter Yoder’s book 9 Worlds of Hex Magic. “In this type of ritual you are ’sacrificing’ the life of the animal to achieve this state in order to gain the wisdom beyond those doors. With this wisdom we increase the effectiveness and potential of our actions that will in turn bring glory to ourselves and our Gods. This reconciles the practice back to one of Odinic sacrifice of Blood, and life for the attainment of knowledge to increase the life of those sacrificing.”

Waggener’s brother, Paul Waggener, visited Hjalti while he was incarcerated. And at least one prominent white supremacist, Jack Donovan, is affiliated with their group. Donovan, who recently spoke at the white supremacist National Policy Institute’s event in Washington, D.C., instagrammed a picture of a dead sheep, tagged #wolvesofvinland.

“Wolves and prospects preparing to butcher the sheep we sacrificed this afternoon at moot,” he wrote.

Animal sacrifice, Norse mythology, wolf-themed weekends—it all sounds like something out of a heavy metal music video or a Live Action Role Play convention. But as yesterday’s arrests evince, viking-inspired white supremacy is alive and well and weird in Southern Virginia.