In recent months, several news stories have brought the issue of North America’s rape culture into all of our homes.
From excessively lenient sentences being handed out for explicit cases of sexual assault, to a judge asking a victim why she didn’t simply keep her legs shut to prevent her imminent rape, we are finally starting to become more aware of how deeply entrenched rape culture is in our society. In fact, when we start looking for signs of it, we see it over and over, making it seem surprising that we hadn’t noticed it before.
Then you start to think about other issues of equality and you realize how deeply entrenched other types of privilege have become. This happened to me personally last week, when I learned of the presence in my small city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario of a group known as the Soldiers of Odin.
The Soldiers of Odin (SOO) were formed in Finland by neo-Nazi Mike Ranta. The group’s officially stated purpose is to patrol streets to maintain safety, particularly in the face of “criminal immigrants,” but even a quick google search shows that they are heavily opposed to all immigration. The founder has also stated that white supremacists are “welcome,” and leaked photos have shown members on the group’s private Facebook page posing in front of Nazi paraphernalia, while in others members make the Nazi salute.
All chapters of the SOO in Canada deny that they are anti-immigrant, or supportive of anti-Semitic or white supremacist sentiments. The president of the Soldiers of Odin Canada was recently interviewed with CBC and denied that members in Canada take part in any such negative action, maintaining that they want only to keep their neighbourhoods safe.
I won’t make a judgment on whether all this is true. But let’s just say it is, and that Canadian members of SOO reject the European chapter’s Nazism and only want to patrol the streets to keep them clean and safe for everyone – it raises the question: why are you doing it under that banner? If you genuinely don’t accept the white supremacism of the founder, why join his group?
It comes down to privilege: those joining the Soldiers of Odin are primarily white men, so used to their comfortable, safe lives that they don’t realize that even the simple act of joining these groups, thus ensuring the group’s survival, perpetuates the kind of hate and violence toward minority groups that they claim to denounce.
The group has the support of many everyday people with no blatant racist sentiment. News stories and SOOs Facebook page have many comments in support of the group’s efforts to clean up neighbourhood streets, often with a blithe “Who cares about the European origins? That’s not what they’re doing here!” Reading such comments not only drives home just how deeply entrenched such privilege is, it makes me want to ask the supporters how they would feel if the group had a swastika or Confederate flag on their jackets instead of an obscure Norse god. Would their actions still be more important than the ideology they are implicitly promoting? They’re still just cleaning up the streets, right?
Just last week an email from a fraternity surfaced in the news in which the sender told his members “Tonight’s the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school.” No doubt those responsible will deny that they had been advocating any kind of non-consensual behaviour, yet the idea is there, under the words. The same holds true of the Soldiers of Odin – state your own intentions all you’d like, but by wearing the same jacket as those who do hold white supremacist sentiment and follow a neo-Nazi, you are condoning the ideology whether you realize it or not.
Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master's degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.