Since last year, 1900 Princess Anne St. in downtown Fredericksburg has been the home of McLeather LLC, Odin’s Chosen and the Himminbjorg Hof.
On the windows of the storefront are symbols, including the Black Sun, the Life Rune and the three interlocking triangles that form the Valknut.
The symbols originated in pre-Christian Europe, but have been appropriated by extremists who’ve given them racist significance. It’s that modern connection to white supremacy that spurred about a dozen people to protest Wednesday across the street from the business during a rainstorm.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Odin’s Chosen has got to go,” the group chanted.
But Joe McGlade, who runs McLeather with his wife, Gretchen, and is an Odin’s Chosen member, said the protesters have it all wrong. He said he and other members are practicing a Nordic religion, and he is running a business.
His store sells leather belts, gun holsters and other items and makes leather repairs. At the front of the store is a Nordic altar.
“It’s just ignorance on their part,” he said of the protesters. “No one has come in to talk to us.”
Kat Littleton and her sister, Ginger Nowak, organized the event after a friend alerted them to the symbols they say have neo-Nazi connections.
“The goal is to make sure people understand who it is that lives in this town,” Nowak said. “People drive by every day and have no idea they’re in town. I think it’s important for people to know they’re here.”
Littleton called the symbols on the storefront “dog whistles” for white supremacists.
The Valknut, for example, is listed on the Anti-Defamation League’s website as a hate symbol associated with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but it cautions that nonracist pagans may also use the symbol.
McGlade said the Valknut on his storefront indeed represents the nine worlds of Odin.
“Odin is a god in Norse mythology who was associated with healing, death, knowledge, sorcery, poetry, battle and the runic alphabet,” according to greekmythology.com.
Nowak and her sister said they didn’t want to go into McGlade’s store after reading posts on Odin’s Chosen’s Facebook pages, some of which have been taken down.
The posts included Nazi imagery, Holocaust denials and a video clip in which Volbriecht Solvein, Odin’s Chosen’s priest, discusses the need to provide genetic testing in order to become a member of his clan.
Solvein, contacted just prior to the protest, said that his pages have been hacked, and that there are people with mixed ethnicity in his clan.
“They’re trying to make us out to be more extreme than we are,” he said.
Nowak and Littleton created a Facebook page, Solidarity Formation FXBG, to share their concerns about Odin’s Chosen and call for the protest. They met in front of the Fredericksburg courthouse before walking toward the storefront.
A petition also was posted on change.org asking people to let Odin’s Chosen know it wasn’t welcome in Fredericksburg and to email Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw. Nearly 400 people had signed the petition by Wednesday evening.
Greenlaw said that she’s received several complaints and forwarded them to City Manager Tim Baroody and Chief of Police David Nye.
“Our police department monitors social media and watches for anything that appears to be a threat to the safety to the community,” she said. “We cannot shut down a business for sentiments expressed on social media. Obviously, if it were a violent threat, it would be different. We haven’t found any violent threats.”
Police department spokeswoman Sarah Kirkpatrick said that police have been in touch with the Virginia State Police’s fusion center, which works with local, state and federal agencies to identify, prevent and respond to terrorist and criminal activity.
“So far, there’s nothing on fusion’s radar to indicate there’s any concern,” she said.
Nowak, Littleton and the other protesters ended up at a spot directly across the street from 1900 Princess Anne St. Wednesday, held up signs and shouted “No place for hate,” “No home for Nazi scum” and a few things that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
Tony Talbert, who has been concerned about what he’s seen in the storefront’s windows, told some of the protesters that their efforts would be better spent pressuring the trust that owns the building to put pressure on Odin’s Chosen to move.
He said he worried that the protest might be “the powder keg” that white supremacists are looking for.
“There are a number of people who side with them,” he said.
Nowak and Littleton said that they plan to organize a town hall to raise awareness about Odin’s Chosen and will hold another protest.
About 7:30 p.m. someone posted a message on the Odin’s Chosen Facebook page: “I do appreciate everyone that came out either to support or investigate our faith and business.”