On Saturday afternoon, I called National Socialist Movement (NSM) Southeast Minnesota leader Samuel Johnson, who this spring began organizing rallies in Austin, Minnesota, to protest the presence of undocumented workers and their families in his community.
We talked for a hour and a half about his views about what he called "white separatism" and the transformation of the United States that he hopes to achieve by political means via the National Socialist Movement. This is the second post based on that interview.
Note 10/28: In order to put this post in more complete context, review the chronology of media coverage of Johnson and NSM activity in Austin, please see Bluestem's earlier backgrounder here. [end note]Part One
National Socialist Movement Southeast Minnesota unit leader Sam Johnson learned about what he calls "white pride" while incarcerated in the Mower County Jail for multiple felony gun, drug, and simple robbery counts.
Before he went to jail and discovered "white pride," Johnson said he was an "ignorant man who wanted either to be feared or loved and to have ton of money."
First convicted of misdemeanor assault and simple robbery offenses and theft over $500 in 1999 (Case ID=152398398 and 27-CR-98-106425; all Minnesota court cases referenced in this post are accessible upon accepting terms here), Johnson was convicted and jailed for felon drug, simple robbery, and gun charges in 2007 (see case numbers 50-CR-06-2799, 50-CR-06-2869 and 50-CR-07-949 for his most recent criminal activity).
"I was a gang-banger until I met a man in jail" after being locked up for a month, Johnson says. "He was brought into my cell. I'd been acting like an idiot."
Those who read police reports on two of his arrests would probably agree with that self-assessment. The reports tell of a man who sold dried mushrooms from a grocery store as hallucinogens and who feared being placed in the jail's general population because he had robbed other drug dealers. (I will be posting these files obtained from the Mower County Sheriff's Department later, but need to redact the names of innocent parties involved in the investigation).
He claims to have been in a black gang, and my research did discover that one of his co-defendants was indeed an underage African-American man (because of his juvenile status at the time the crime was committed, I will not be posting his name or photo).
The new cellmate called Johnson on his behavior and asked him to "Be White."
Johnson asked more questions about what that meant, and the jailhouse mentor began to share a version of the teachings of Asatru. For most adherents, Asatru is a relatively benign form of northern European neo-paganism similar to Celtic Wicca, but the neo-paganism belief system was co-opted by German Nazis in the Thule Society and adapted over a decde ago by American neo-Nazis seeking a faith that worships gods that are homegrown in northern Europe:
Asatrú (and Icelandic word meaning "belief in the Æesir," or gods) has been officially recognized as a religion in Iceland since 1972. Historically, its architects have avoided racist interpretations of its Eurocentric cosmology.
But in the United States, where insiders say 15 percent of Asatrúers follow an overtly racist version of the theology, a struggle is now going on for the hearts and minds of its followers.
Experts say the religion, an offshoot of Odinism that emphasizes the magical elements of pre-Christian European polytheism, is gaining popularity among young, urban white supremacists who reject the Christian aspects of other theologies.
Odinist and Asatru adherents enjoy religious freedom, a civil liberty recently confirmed by the Supreme Court, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center article Prisoners of Belief. The article notes that Minnesota's prison system monitors Asatru and Odinist gatherings inside:
Donald Rothstein, who has spent more than 20 years investigating security-threat groups for the Minnesota corrections system, said that Odinist religious services, just like any religious group meeting, provide an opportunity for him and his colleagues to gain intelligence on security threats. Asatru or Odinist inmates are allowed to meet for group worship in four of the state's prison facilities, and they are monitored when they do. "If for some reason white supremacist inmates are having an action [and] fifty of them show up – say that's five times the normal service — we know something is going on." Rothstein says Minnesota inmates are observed based on behavior, not for gang or religious affiliation.
A clerical error kept him from going to the state correctional facility in St. Cloud, Johnson said. Though the mistake caused him to serve time in the county jail rather than prison, one of the faithful found him in Mower County. (I don't know if county jail populations are monitored for "security-threat" groups).
Johnson declined to name his mentor, or the "white pride" group to which he belonged,as he had not been in contact with the man since leaving jail. He did not know what the man had done to be jailed.
Johnson learned about a faith that he called "Nordic," "natural" and "pro-life" which helped him realize that he needed to take pride in his European heritage. According to "folkish" Asatru leader Stephen McNallen's Asatru FAQs:
Why is the religion of our ancestors the best one for us?
Because we are more like our ancestors than we are like anyone else. We inherited not only their general physical appearance, but also their predominant mental, emotional, and spiritual traits. We think and feel more like they did; our basic needs are most like theirs. The religion which best expressed their innermost nature - Asatru - is better suited to us than is some other creed which started in the Middle East among people who are essentially different from us. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are alien religions that do not truly speak to our souls.
Heathen author Wayland Skallagrimsson discussed how such "folkish" concepts can lend themselves to racist thinking in Racism in Asatru:
1)White Power Folkists, who feel non-whites cannot hear the call of our gods. These are a major part of the type using the term Folkish. Many are openly racist, though many others will try to claim they are simply full of pride for the white race, but are not racist because they also believe that whites cannot hear the call of other races' gods. Still others will simply state "I'm not racist", but will be as adamant in claiming that the gods will have nothing to do with those not of Northern European descent as they are in refusing to give any cogent reason as to how they know this or why this isn't racist. The White Power Folkist is often a Nazi as well, and sometimes goes by the term "hammerskin".
2)Honestly confused Folkists who have a bad view of science or philosophy that leads them to conclusions that are in effect racist even though they honestly don't think so. Examples of this are those people who honestly do think that genetic science says that a person's thoughts and beliefs are genetically determined, when it in fact says no such thing. (There is no evidence of this at all. Most scientists believe a person's thoughts and beliefs are largely derived from childhood cultural indoctrination influenced in some indeterminable way by genetic inclinations in one vague direction or another, such as a tendency to get angry easily, or a tendency towards depression.) The most public example of this type of Folkist is Steve McNallen and his AFA, with their "science" of metagenetics. Unfortunately in the modern world, many people are exposed to science trivia in magazines and on TV and get erroneous impressions that they think actually reflect modern scientific understanding. This type is usually quite adamant in claiming they are not racist, and often gets highly offended when someone tries to point out how their beliefs may be termed as such.
Spiritual journeys are nothing new among the incarcerated--though the conversion of adherents to extremist philosophies is a newer wrinkle. In the 2007 NPR broadcast of an interview with Indiana State University criminologist Mark Hamm in Jailhouse Conversion Takes 'Extreme' Turn, the scholar spoke about the growth of
a movement converting inmates to religious and political extremists, embracing violent ideologies such as white supremacy, or so called "prison Islam.
Based on what Johnson told me, it's likely that his spiritual guide in prison can be counted among the minority of Asatru adherents who are white separatists or supremacists. The spiritual teachings prompted Johnson to learn more about Adolf Hitler and national socialism. After exploring various "white pride" groups following his release from jail, Johnson joined the National Socialist Movement in March 2009.
Mr. Johnson didn't seem to have adopted Asatru faith as a consequence of his new quest for knowledge; in our interview, he didn't know the spelling of the word.
Photo: Sam Johnson, 2007, courtesy of the Mower County Sheriff's office.
Coming up: In Bluestem's final installment, a look at Johnson's views on NSM as a political movement and attitudes about Jews.