For a group that began just two years ago, the Soldiers of Odin has spread quickly across the globe, with chapters across Europe and North America.
Who are they? What are they all about? Are they racists? Are they anti-immigration? These are questions many in Sudbury are asking following the group's entry into the local consciousness last week when Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen apologized for posing for a photo with local members of SOO at a charity event.
Sudburian David MacKinnon, president of the Ontario chapter, denies the group is involved with anything other than good works, like picking up dirty needles off the ground and volunteering at the soup kitchen.
Anyone is welcome to join, MacKinnon says, regardless of religion, race or background.
But that welcoming message contrasts with how SOO began in Finland in 2015, with an overtly anti-immigration and racist agenda. It spread quickly into North America, but the Canadian branch (except for Quebec) publicly split with the Finnish group in May because of its extreme views.
In a National Post article, the president of Soldiers of Odin Canada, Bill Daniels, denounced the “racist agenda” of Soldiers of Odin leaders in Finland and said his branch was no longer associated with them.
“Their ridiculous belief in racism has always been a huge issue for us in Canada as we do not support or share their views on race,” Daniels said on Facebook, calling the Finnish leaders “racist, unorganized, reckless” thugs.
But whatever the split means, all of the groups in Canada haven't exactly turned themselves into Shriners. The group's Facebook page for its Calgary branch, for example, adopts the sort of crisis language used by far right groups in the U.S.
“We can't become what we want to be, by remaining what we are,” one post reads. “Our way of life is being threatened, our government has turned on us, and our streets are more dangerous than ever. What are YOU going to do?”
Another post is a meme that reads “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for our children.”
But then when someone asks on the page, “Can any Canadian join or do you have to be white?” the reply is “We are Canadians from every walk of life.”
The confusing messaging is a consistent element to the groups in North America. The group's Victoria branch, for example, has a long post on the dangers of certain types of immigration in particular, and the conspiracy of “globalists” in particular.
“Some values and social structures are mutually exclusive; no matter how hard you try, certain cultures can never be homogenized with other cultures,” the post reads. “You can only eliminate one culture to make room for the other in a border-less world.
“The ultimate end game of globalists is not to control governments (governments are nothing more than a tool). Rather, their end game is to obtain total psychological influence and eventually consent from the masses.”
The Fraser Valley, B.C. chapter has a different take on immigration.
“A strong community is made up of many different groups, each bringing unique perspectives that contribute to the fabric of Canadian culture and a strong economy,” the chapter's website says. “These include newcomers, Aboriginals and people with differing abilities or socio-economic backgrounds.
“Fraser Valley Soldiers of Odin are committed to the communities where we work and live. We partner with a number of related groups and causes in an effort to help build healthier communities and families.”
But then this from the SOO Edmonton branch: “I would rather lay down my life in battle than to leave my children in a world dominated by the evil that is Islam.”
For more information, here are some articles written on the group: