Neo-Völkisch adherents worship the Norse or Germanic gods, spirituality premised on the survival of white Europeans and the preservation of dead or dying cultures they presume to embody. Such individuals and groups use a variety of terms to describe their spirituality such as Odinism or Wotanism, Odalism, heathenism, Ásatrú or even paganism. Qualifiers like “Germanic” or “proto-Germanic” are sometimes attached to those terms. Other qualifiers like “Norse tradition” might also be used.
These myriad categorizations can be confusing, as not all heathens are bigoted, and some actively distance their religion from neo-Völkisch dogma. Neo-Völkisch groups who comport themselves around notions of racial and cultural essentialism, however, generally identify themselves as “Folkish” or “Folk”-rooted. This designation signals their cherishing of ethnocentrism in a manner that promotes ethnic exclusivity, at the very least, and can even promote racial supremacy.
Ideas of the “Folkish” are generally derived from the Völkisch movement of the early 20th century, centered in what is now Austria and Germany. In those turbulent decades, the movement sought to unite German ethnicity around shared notions of geography, ancestry and spirituality, with many believing that the might of militaristic iron was as essential as the bond of blood and soil. Just as the original Völkisch movement can be understood as a movement of ethnocentric nationalism, the neo-Völkisch movement can be understood as a movement of ethnocentric tribalism.
A November 19, 2017, post on the Instagram account of the Ásatrú Folk Assembly (AFA), perhaps this country’s largest neo-Völkisch hate group, exemplifies how neo-Völkisch adherents profess their urgency for preserving their “Folkish” ways. The post’s caption, borrowing from a popular racist meme, reads, “In these mixed up times it is important to remember not only that it is okay to be white but also that we owe to our descendants the same sturdy roots from which we ourselves have grown. We Asatruar are on the side of nature of family and of life.”
Present-day neo-Völkisch adherents, like the AFA, have reinvigorated the key elements of their predecessors’ ideologies in iterations unique to the 21st century. In line with the defensive rhetoric adopted by the “alt-right,” neo-Volkisch devotees veil their ethnocentric beliefs in arguments for the necessity of separate societies, or tribes, to preserve all ethnicities. Despite their paradoxical rebuke of modernity, leaders have embraced various social media platforms to increase the palatability of the neo-Völkisch ideology.
While violence rarely erupts from the neo-Völkisch movement, the ethnically or racially charged warrior ethos that the movement is largely premised on further entrenches belief systems that form the bedrock of contemporary notions of the relationship between volatile masculinity and nurturing femininity. Hyper-masculine imagery fetishized within neo-Völkisch spheres reinforces misogyny and traditional gender roles. This degradation and disrespect of women, often couched in a cherishing of women as the keepers of the home, echoes broader trends within the so-called “alt-right” that derive from the virulently anti-woman “manosphere,” the online blogosphere-turned-movement supposedly rescuing masculinity from rabid feminists and other forces of political correctness. Jack Donovan of the Wolves of Vinland is one such neo-Völkisch adherent whose roots can be traced back to the manosphere.
One of the figureheads of the neo-Völkisch movement, Steve McNallen, exemplifies such ideas in a video monologue that he posted to Alt-Right.com and other sites, called “What I Really Think About Race.” “We need to change our attitude,” says McNallen, “We need to say what I just said a minute ago, ‘I will defend my race.’ I will fight for my race, primarily with words and ideas, but I will fight more literally if I have to.”
Neo-Völkisch ideology debuted in the United States in the early 1970s with help from Steve McNallen and Danish immigrant, Else Christensen. Concurrently, Christensen founded the Odinist Fellowship in Crystal River, Florida, and McNallen created the Asatru Free Assembly, the precursor to the present-day Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA).
McNallen remains a seminal figure in the neo-Völkisch community. His idea of “metagenetics,” or the belief that religion and genetic inheritance are intrinsically tied, is fundamental to the argument that certain variants of “Folkish” Ásatrú can only be practiced by individuals of European, particularly Germanic, descent. For example, McNallen asserts in his essay “Metagenetics (1985)” that “we are thus a religion not for all of humanity, but rather one that calls only its own.” Pernicious notions of heredity, read here as the idea of a common blood and soil, underpin his “dogma,” despite his protestations to the contrary.
Despite McNallen’s explicitly racist ideas, contemporaries have often criticized him as a race traitor due to his failure to unequivocally support white supremacy. Most vocal amongst those critics were David and Katja Lane, who along with Ron McVan, created another important neo-Völkisch group in the early 1990s, Wotansvolk.
David Lane was a member of the neo-Nazi terror cell, the Order, which rose to prominence in 1984 after committing several murders and a series of bank robberies, all in the name of white supremacy. Lane infamously coined the “14 Words” slogan and authored “The 88 Precepts,” a series of tenets that many white supremacists use to guide their life choices. Lane, more straightforward than McNallen, believed that one “cannot share Gods with other races” and that the tribal, ethnocentric, Wotanist society he envisioned was only attainable after a period of oppressive dictatorship.
In 2017, McNallen disposed of such facades, particularly in his aforementioned monologue on race in which he quotes Lane’s “14 Words” verbatim. In 2017, McNallen and others within the movement, like so many others in organized racism, became more comfortable speaking clearly about their views on race, gender and sexuality. In a post on its Facebook on August 21, Matt Flavel, AFA’s national leader, wrote, “Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children.”
While proponents of neo-Völkisch ideologies romanticize pre-Christian Viking culture in slick, stylized manners, the quasi-intellectual and metaphysical underpinnings of the ideology emerged in the mid-19th century.
Two of the foremost thinkers in establishing this groundwork were Austrian nationals Guido Karl Anton List and Adolf Josef Lanz. The pair are better known by their pseudonyms, Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, respectively. Aggrieved by the acceleration of societal change during their lifetimes — particularly stemming from the Industrial Revolution, and a perceived lack of ethnic cohesion exacerbated, in part, by foreign influences like Catholicism — these men recoiled away from their times, which they felt were further atomizing their people.
Von List and others promoted notions that visible biological differences determine one’s intellect and worth, which intersected with concepts like “Social Darwinism” that were flourishing at that time. Von List capitalized on the popularity of such concepts to argue that those of Germanic descent have always been superior. Such notions underpinned how von List developed “Ariosophy,” or the religion of so-called Aryan peoples. Arriving on a crest of von List’s work, von Liebenfels later developed his own popular theory within Ariosophy, “Theozoology,” a quasi-religious doctrine he intermingled with sciences like biology and zoology to classify humans into a taxonomy of racial hierarchy.
With similar beliefs bound to genetic essentialism, Ariosophists relied on occultism to bolster the myth of Ariosophy and Aryan peoples within influential social circles. Some of those circles were crucial in nurturing and propelling the National Socialist Germany Worker’s Party under Adolf Hitler to power during the 1920s and into the 1930s.
Present-day Neo-Völkisch adherents also couch their white supremacy in unfounded claims of bloodlines informing one’s identity. At the cross-section of hypermasculinity and ethnocentrism, this movement seeks to defend against the baseless threats of the extermination of white people and their children.