A Minnesota town is dealing with the fallout of a city council vote allowing a whites-only congregation to occupy a former Lutheran church

Connor Perrett
Minnesota protest
FILE: In this June 1, 2020, photo, protesters gather at a memorial for George Floyd where he died outside Cup Foods on East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. AP Photo/John Minchillo
  • The Murdock, Minnesota, city council voted 3-1 earlier this month to issue a permit allowing the Asatru Folk Assembly to occupy space previously held by a Lutheran church.

  • The church, which only allows members who are white, has drawn concern from residents, who have turned to a town Facebook page to express confusion and distress over their new neighbors, NBC News reported.

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Asatru Folk Assembly as "perhaps the largest" "Neo-Völkisch" group in the US, which it defines as one that is "organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender."

  • An online petition against the church has gained more than 117,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

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A small Minnesota town is preparing for the arrival of a church that only allows white people after the city council voted earlier this month allowing it to take over space formerly occupied by a Lutheran congregation.

In a 3-1 vote, members of the Murdock, Minnesota, city council in December determined the Asatru Folk Assembly would be able to occupy space in a vacated Lutheran church, voting to approve the group's request for a conditional-use permit to claim the space as its Midwestern hub, The Star Tribune reported.

The council was required to vote to allow the church to move into the building because the location was presently zoned for residential properties, according to NBC News

At the meeting, Don Wilcox, the Murdock city attorney, had encouraged the councilmembers to vote in favor of allowing the organization in, citing First Amendment concerns, including the right to freedom of speech and religion.

"I think there's a great deal of sentiment in the town that they don't want that group there," Wilcox told NBC News. "You can't just bar people from practicing whatever religion they want or saying anything they want as long as it doesn't incite violence."

The vote took place virtually over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, and councilmembers kept their cameras turned off during the vote so they could remain anonymous.

A summary of the meeting later allowed town residents to determine how the councilmembers voted, according to The Washington Post. Experts suggested the anonymous vote may have been a violation of open records laws in Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported. The city's mayor later apologized for allowing cameras to remain off during the virtual vote, The Post said.

The lone council member to vote against the church said she felt there was a "chance to fight" any legal challenges

"I think we could have fought it had we went to court," Hoff told NBC News, acknowledging potential legal troubles denying the permit could've brought. "I felt that we had a case with the emotional and mental well being of the city of Murdock."

The location in Murdock, a town with a population of about 265, will be the third US location for the California-based organization, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as "perhaps the largest" "Neo-Völkisch" group in the US, which it defines as one that is "organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender."

"Present-day Folkish adherents also couch their bigotry in baseless claims of bloodlines grounding the superiority of one's white identity," the Southern Poverty Law Center says about such groups. "At the cross-section of hypermasculinity and ethnocentricity, this movement seeks to defend against the unfounded threats of the extermination of white people and their children."

Representatives for the Asatru Folk Assembly did not return Insider's request for comment on Tuesday but have previously denied being a white supremacist or a hate group, despite openly forbidding the membership of non-white people.

A declaration of purpose on its website, reads, in part: "If the Ethnic European Folk cease to exist Asatru would likewise no longer exist. Let us be clear: by Ethnic European Folk we mean white people. It is our collective will that we not only survive, but thrive, and continue our evolution in the direction of the Infinite."

"We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own," the organization claims in its "statement of ethics."

"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," it adds.

Murdock residents have expressed concerns about the group's midwestern move

Residents posted on The Murdock Leader, a Facebook group bearing the name of a long-defunct town newspaper, to talk about the church's arrival and the ensuing national media coverage.

"I know nothing about them except after reading the articles and clicking and reading the links," one town resident wrote in the group, adding "it's scary."

Another woman wrote: "Our town is under a spotlight, and the only way to move forward is to make sure that we make it known to the whole country that the AFA is not an accurate reflection of what our town represents.

"We didn't get a say in whether or not they could come here, but we do get a say in how we respond to their presence in our community," she added.

Others were less critical of the group's arrival in the small town, with one writing: "If a group exists to celebrate their race and accordingly follow a historic, ethnically specific religion are they automatically creating hostility towards other ethnicities?

"Those who pose to be politically correct pillars of example in our community ought to become educated on the subject matter before swallowing the Koolaid," she said.

The situation has gained national attention, and a Change.org petition that calls for the city council and the Minnesota state government to stop the church from moving in had secured more than 117,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon. It's not clear who created the petition, as the person to set it up did so using a pseudonym.

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