This piece appeared in The Hill Times on May 20, 2019.
When I was a kid one of my favourite movies was The Vikings with Kirk Douglas (father of the much more famous, at least today, Michael) and Tony Curtis. It follows the story of a bunch of, well Vikings, in which, and here I am citing IMDB: “a slave and a Viking prince fight for the love of a captive princess.” It is actually a lot more exciting than that.
In one scene I think it is Tony Curtis who is tied up as the tide is rising and he prays to the Norse god Odin for protection. Lo and behold the god comes to his aid and he goes on to live and do all kinds of Viking things. Odin was the one-eyed god of poetry, death, divination and magic, a true multi-tasker if their ever was one.
Not too many people believe in or pray to Norse gods today, even in Scandinavia. The region converted to Christianity beginning in the 8th century and the area today is largely Lutheran, with nary a Norse deity worshiper in sight. Aside from the DC/Marvel movies universe I suppose where one superhero is called Thor. I have yet to see anyone in Canada open up a place of worship to Norse gods and goddesses. I would think that would be seen as silly (NB do not write to me and lambaste me for insensitivity: if you want to bow down to Frigg, Balder and Loki please feel free to do so).
Which brings me to the Soldiers of Odin (SOO), a political extremist group founded in Finland in 2015 but with chapters in Canada. I don’t think they worship Mr. Odin but they are nevertheless an odious group. According to some, the SOO is a white supremacist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic identitarian group. Somewhat paradoxically the group describes itself as ‘a non profit organization that helps their local communities with charity, good will, and believes in our charter of rights and freedoms.” Hmm, those two versions don’t seem very close, do they? For the record, most terrorism analysts and political scientists would place them in the former, and not the latter, category.
The SOO made the headlines this week in Canada, a rare achievement for the small organisation, when they hosted a ‘dinner event’ at a Royal Canadian Legion on April 22 in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The Legion was not amused. In a statement on its FaceBook page, dominion president Thomas D. Irvine said the national command “does not support or tolerate any group or organization whose views or actions are contrary to our values and those of our country. This includes ‘the Soldiers of Odin.’”
Oh my. This cannot be good. Even if the SOO do engage in feeding the hungry and picking up garbage in parks, some members have also clashed with anti-racism and anti-fascist demonstrators, and posted flagrantly anti-Muslim statements on their social media pages. The Kiwanis or Rotary Clubs these guys most assuredly are not.
Not that the Legion is the Canadian military but this incident does bring back bad memories. In 1993 two members of Canada’s former Airborne Regiment tortured and killed a Somali who had entered their camp, an infamous crime that led eventually to the disbandment of the unit (the so-called ‘Somalia Affair’). There are right-wing extremism analysts who believe that our military does have a problem with men (and I suppose women) in uniform who espouse neo-Nazi and white supremacist views. Not that these terrorists are large in number by any stretch of imagination, but even a few can tarnish the military’s reputation. Furthermore, do we in Canada want those who are virulently anti-immigrant, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic (or any combination thereof) to have access to weapons and military training?
It is important not to over-emphasise this issue nor cast aspersions on the thousands of men and women in our defence forces. Still, the use of a Legion to host an SOO event, even if the group was making and serving meals, cannot and must not be tolerated. We need to make it clear that groups of this ilk do not enjoy official sanction and that we as Canadians universally reject their views.
So go ahead and swing Thor’s hammer but don’t do it in furtherance of your racist program.
Phil Gurski is the President of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. He will be speaking at the Shenkman Centre in Ottawa on May 27 on his latest book ‘An End to the War on Terror’.