Internal conflicts and the appointment of a new leader with a long record of criminal convictions has led to more controversy and chaos for the organization calling itself “Soldiers of Odin,” which has been labelled as a “vigilante” group in Norway. Public protests aimed at the group are growing, with even Norwegian literary figures complaining it has hijacked symbols of the country’s Viking heritage.
“They’re destroying our cultural heritage,” complains author Roy Jacobsen, who has worked on new translations of Snørre’s Viking sagas and specialized in Nordic literature. Jacobsen supported protests lodged by award-winning Norwegian playwright and author Jon Fosse, who launched calls last week “to take back” the use of Viking symbols and Norse figures like Odin from the hands of right-wing extremists.
Hoping for an implosion
Now some officials hope the “Soldiers of Odin” will merely implode as a result of internal conflict, leadership controversy and lack of membership control. Ronny Alte, the 41-year-old resident of Stokke in Vestfold who had been the group’s leader and spokesman in the few months it’s existed, was reportedly forced out and replaced by Steffen André Larsen, a 28-year-old Norwegian whom newspaper VG reports has a long list of criminal convictions, the latest from last fall.
Larsen’s criminal record emerged just after he’d claimed to news bureau NTB that in order for anyone to be a “full-fledged member” of the group, they must meet “certain criteria” and follow Norwegian law. “If you are tied up with anything criminal, or front neo-naziism, you can’t be a member,” he told NTB.
Confronted with his own criminal past, which VG reported includes convictions for robbery, theft, illegally bearing arms, drunk driving, threats against the police and taking possession of a stolen police uniform, he told newspaper Dagsavisen that “I have served my punishment. I am not a criminal (now) and should not be judged any longer for what I’ve done.”
Larsen’s former defense attorney, Jon Anders Hasle, told Dagsavisen that “from what I understand, he has gone through rehabilitation and is today well-functioning in many ways.”
Larsen has also admitted to publishing a photo on the social media site Facebook of masked Islamist extremists with a headline “We are coming!” along with another photo of actor Ed Norton taken from the film American History X, in which Norton poses with a large swastika tattooed on his chest. Norton’arms are wide open in the photo, and Larsen adorned it with the headline “WE ARE WAITING.” That sparked a rebuke from his predecessor Alte, who called the photo “totally unacceptable.” Larsen apparently won the conflict with Alte, though, claiming to Dagsavisen that he only published the photos “as a joke,” and adding that “anyone who’s seen the film knows the role model (played by Norton) isn’t a Nazi towards the end.”
Both he and Alte have claimed the Soldiers of Odin are not made up of neo-Nazis or racists, but strong doubts remain. Alte was part of the ultra-right-wing Norwegian Defence League and Pegida in Norway, the “soldiers” wear hooded sweatshirts adorned with Viking symbols that many Norwegians find frightening and police are bracing for clashes, not least against another self-professed counter-organization that emerged last week called “Allaah’s soldiers.” Website Vepsen wrote that “Allaah’s soldiers” are the local Islamist response to the Odin group, and Alte’s criticism of it reportedly also led to his fall as leader of Soldiers of Odin.
“Vigilante groups don’t belong in Norway, either for Odin or for Allah,” claimed Hadia Tajik, deputy leader of the Labour Party. “I expect the police, which is the only organization with authority to patrol and use force, to monitor these groups as tightly as the circumstances demand.” Both Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, and Finance Minister Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party, made similar statements last week as has Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, who has political responsibility over the police in Norway.
“It’s the police who will keep the streets safe,” Anundsen claimed last week. “I have difficulty seeing that ‘Odin’s soldiers’ have any role in that connection.”