Controversial Soldiers of Odin group organizing in Hamilton
'They're not welcome' and drum up racism, one resident says. The group says it's just misunderstood
Soldiers of Odin — a group critics denounce as a racist hate group that is anti-Muslim and anti-immigration — is setting up in Hamilton.
And while the organization's national president says there's nothing to fear, others beg to differ.
People think we're some sort of white power group...We have had a few of those members and we've kicked them out.- Joel Angott, Soldiers of Odin Canada national president
The international organization, founded in Finland in late 2015, has a Canadian arm called Soldiers of Odin Canada, which has a stated aim to "take back our streets."
Local chapters have formed in cities and provinces this year. Group activities include neighbourhood street patrols.
The presence in Hamilton is informal right now, with about eight or nine members getting organized, said SOO national president Joel Angott. There's a lot of interest, but potential Hamilton members are being carefully vetted.
SOO members do neighbourhood patrols, Angott told CBC Hamilton in a phone interview from Winnipeg. Right now, its Hamilton plans focus on cleaning up local parks.
He denies that the group is anti-immigration, or anti-Muslim, although the group's bylaws lament the government "accepting refugees from countries that hate us" and "letting illegal aliens into this country and giving them the ability to vote and drive."
Its focus is on community service and neighbourhood watch, he said. He also describes the group as being multicultural and actively trying to keep out white supremacists.
"People think we're some sort of white power group," he said. "We're not affiliated with any of that. We have had a few of those members and we've kicked them out."
I'm sure if you were to ask members of the KKK if they were a benevolent organization, they'd use the same type of logic and reason.- Coun. Matthew Green
"We've shut down chapters because of the people getting involved. They're very tenacious, those groups."
Matthew Green, Ward 3 city councillor, doesn't buy it. The group is associated with anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiments, and hate speech, he said. He wants them to move on.
"I'm sure if you were to ask members of the KKK if they were a benevolent organization, they'd use the same type of logic and reason," he said.
"We need to make a statement as Hamiltonians about what kind of communities we want to live in and what kind of communities we want to raise our children in."
West Hamilton resident Paul Glendenning agrees, and made a graphic being shared on social media that says "Soldiers of Odin Not Welcome in Hamilton."
They're not welcome, and I think we need to be vocal about it.- Hamilton resident Paul Glendenning
"I don't want to see patrols in Hamilton," he said. "They're not welcome, and I think we need to be vocal about it."
Soldiers of Odin formed in Kemi, Finland, just as the country with little history of welcoming large numbers of refugees saw a wave of asylum seekers, Reuters says.
Early versions of SOO's now-defunct website, Reuters says, read "Islamist intruders cause insecurity and increase crimes." SOO members in Finland have carried placards that read "Migrants not welcome."
In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League published a report this year saying the white supremacy ties of many Soldiers of Odin members in America "leaves no room for doubt."
Though not all such adherents of the group are white supremacists or bigots, so many of them clearly are that the Soldiers of Odin can easily be considered a hate group.- Anti-Defamation League report on Soldiers of Odin in the U.S.
"Though not all such adherents of the group are white supremacists or bigots, so many of them clearly are that the Soldiers of Odin can easily be considered a hate group," it reads.
"But they are also more than that, in that they represent a diverse coalition of right-wing extremists ranging from antigovernment extremists to white supremacists, coming together for the purpose of expressing hostility towards refugees and Muslims in general."
The group has rules of "no racism" and "no religion bashing," the report says. "However, the official stance of the group and the beliefs of the group's membership and supporters are two very different things. In reality, a large segment of the group's membership and supporter base consists of white supremacists, while many other members and supporters come from other extremist movements."
SOO Canada's bylaws document says the group is a "non-racist, conservative organization" whose goal is to protect every citizen. But it also says that "higher authorities" are "failing the Canadian citizens" with their immigration policies.
"Between the allowing of illegal aliens into this country and giving them the ability to vote and drive, accepting refugees from countries that hate us while Canadians are on the streets, releasing confirmed terrorists back to their organizations to cause more harm against Canada, and demonizing anything that has to do with European culture to try and create racial tensions to turn citizens on one another; we as Soldiers of Odin realize that it is time to take back our streets," the document says.
We don't want people coming in and pushing any kind of agenda on Canada.- Joel Angott
Angott said the group is "for sustainable immigration," meaning that the government thoroughly screens new immigrants, and they "want to come in and follow Canadian law."
"We don't want people coming in and pushing any kind of agenda on Canada," he said.
Asked to clarify, he said Canada should remain a country where "anyone can practice their own religion and have their own beliefs not imposed by another person."
Green suspects Hamilton hasn't heard the last of SOO, or similar groups he's heard are interested in Hamilton. All those opposed to it can do is use their voices, he said.
"For those wanting to build a compassionate and empathic community, we have to make that known," he said. "We have to denounce any activities that are fascist and neo Nazi in nature. We have to raise awareness and call it out when we see it."
"We're a sanctuary city and we need to act like it."