Friday, March 31, 2023

Far-right extremists continue to co-opt Norwegian symbolism – that’s why

Payton Gendron, the suspect in the murder of ten people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, is the latest far-right extremist who allegedly killed defenseless people in the name of white supremacy. His hate-filled manifesto is full of staggering contradictions, horrific stereotypes, blatant conspiracy theories and, predictably, Norwegian symbolism.

Gendron concluded his manifesto with the contradictory message: “God bless you all and I hope to see you in Valhalla.” It follows the leadership of the terrorist who attacked a summer camp in Utøya, Norway, naming his guns after the weapons of the Norwegian gods. Even more recently, the shooter who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, discussed his manifesto with references to Norwegian culture.

In pre-Christian Norwegian faith, Valhalla is the hall where those who die heroically are taken to prepare for Ragnarök, the battle at the end of the world, under the watchful eye of the god Odin. To die heroically, according to most Norwegian sources, means that we fought bravely in battle. It is not mentioned that the killing of unarmed civilians gives you a seat at the table. According to Norwegian tradition, Gendron is more likely to be destined for Náströnd (Lykkus): an area of ​​the underworld reserved for cowardly killers to wade rivers of poison to the end of the world.

Neo-Nazis have never been particularly good at reading the medieval sources to which they are so attracted. They find what they want in the Norwegian myth – violence, ruthlessness, an existential war that will lead to the rebirth of a new world – and they do not read deeper. Gendron probably read no further than the Christchurch terrorists’ manifesto, which makes a very similar contradictory reference to both the Christian god and Valhalla.

The appeal of Norwegian symbolism

Norwegian symbolism has long appealed to the far right. The architects of Nazism in the 1930s mistakenly regarded Norwegian mythology preserved in Iceland as a repository of “Germanic” culture and values ​​that were forcibly eradicated elsewhere, including by the influence of Christianity. They found support for their aggression in stories about a vital war and looted pre-Christian imagery for the iconography of the Third Reich.

Gendron’s manifesto also borrows heavily from the iconography used by the Christchurch terrorist. Both manifestos give particular prominence to a wheel-like symbol known as the sun-wheel, or black sun.

Read more: The ‘sun wheel’ used in shooters’ manifestos: a spiritual symbol of hatred

The sun gear is sometimes misinterpreted as an ancient symbol associated with the Vikings. The “QAnon shaman” tattooed this symbol along with other, more neutral images from the Norwegian myth.

Gendron’s manifesto connects this symbol with Norwegian culture by placing it on a photograph of a landscape, which appears to be the Old Man of Storr, a rock formation on the island of Skye. Skye was part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Islands for much of the medieval period, and the Norwegian etymology of the word Storr means “great” or “great”.

The Sun Wheel, A Black Circle With 12 Repetitive Serrated Lines Around It Like Spokes Of A Wheel.
The sun wheel, or ‘black sun’, is a common occurrence in neo-Nazi and far-right images. / Shutterstock

But the sun gear is actually an invention of the Nazis, possibly based on Merovingian disks. It appears in a mosaic in a castle redesigned by Heinrich Himmler as a center for the SS, but it was not a prominent symbol used by the Third Reich.

It has probably contributed to its appeal to neo-Nazis in the recent past, showing it as an alternative to the swastika that can be passed on as a medieval emblem without making others aware of their extremism. On the other hand, Gendron clearly wanted the brand to be seen and shared – in addition to including it in his manifesto, he also displayed the sun gear prominently on his chest during the shooting.

21st Century Swastika

The sun wheel recently received international attention, as part of a now-replaced badge of Ukraine’s Azov regiment. It reflects the far-right origins of the voluntary militia, which has since been incorporated into Ukraine’s national army and has apparently gotten rid of its more openly neo-Nazi ideology.

Russian propagandists, who sought support for the Kremlin’s false narrative about the “denazification” of Ukraine, suggested that Gendron’s use of the sun gear meant that he was in some way associated with the Azov regiment. But the same accusation could very well have been leveled against Russian mercenary groups, including the Wagner group (sometimes called Vladimir Putin’s private army).

Neo-Nazis linked to Russia proudly display their own collection of Norwegian symbols in eastern Ukraine. A soldier of Russian proxy forces was filmed receiving a medal for fighting in Mariupol while wearing a hawk: one of the Norwegian symbols most closely associated with transnational white supremacy.

The Anti-Defamation League also reported that Gendron had drawn the rune letter “othala” on his weapons. This symbol appeals to ethnonationalists because of its Old English name, œðel, translated as “inherited land”. It has been used by far-right groups for years. Evidence has emerged from the Wagner group that used the rune during their operations in Libya.

Neo-Nazis around the world clearly feel encouraged by the current political climate. They are increasingly using pseudo-Norwegian symbols to brand their hatred and link it to a transnational white supremacist movement, with the solar wheel in particular emerging as a call to arms for violent ethnonationalist struggle.

Variations of these symbols, once you recognize them, are easy to spot. It is unlikely that it can help us to choose such 21st-century swastikas to prevent the next attack, but it may help us to identify those who are becoming radicalized and feel that they have their hateful ideologies in the eye can wear.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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