An online petition to stop a white supremacist church from making a small western Minnesota town its hub for Midwest activities has gained steam this week, quickly becoming one of the most popular petitions on Change.org.
The petition to block the Asatru Folk Assembly — which was granted a permit last week by the Murdock City Council — gained more than 36,000 signatures by early evening Tuesday.
The AFA purchased an abandoned Lutheran church in Murdock, a town of 275 people in Swift County, not far from Willmar.
"The Asatru Folk Assembly is identified as a Neo-völkisch hate group, which means they have the same ideation as Nazis," wrote the organizer of the petition, listed as Eridan Ampora. "We need to stop this."
The organizer's name is a pseudonym; that's a frequent practice in petitions like this, according to a Change.org spokesperson, because of concerns about being trolled online. Eridan Ampora is a genocidal villain in the webcomic Homestuck.
Before last week's vote, city attorney Don Wilcox told City Council members that they faced possible legal jeopardy if they voted against the AFA based on its beliefs.
"There are certain constitutional protections that apply to religions," Wilcox said. "I haven't seen any evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption that they are a religion, whether you agree with it or not."
Last week's anonymous City Council vote violated the state's open meeting law, according to experts. The council was meeting online because of the COVID-19 pandemic and kept its video camera off during the voice vote, so the online audience couldn't hear which of the five council members voted for or against the church.
The Murdock spot would be the AFA's third gathering spot — or, as the group calls it, "hof" — in the United States for the unabashedly pro-white religion. The other two are in North Carolina and California.
"We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships," according to the group's statement of ethics posted on its website. "We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.
"We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged."
The AFA opposes multiracial families, with a code of conduct saying "activities and behaviors supportive of the White family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the White family are to be discouraged."
One petition signer, identified as Ellie Inkster of St. Cloud, said the church being in central Minnesota would taint the region.
"We cannot let central Minnesota be known as a hateful area," she wrote. "This goes against all of our individual and state values. How disgraceful."
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647