On Sunday afternoon, the Dawson Creek Mirror spoke with Wade Reimer of the Grande Prairie Soldiers of Odin – and Sergeant at Arms for Alberta-wide.
Reimer gets and understands the push back from the name alone Soldiers of Odin, but says connections to the Finland group started three years ago are no more.
“We like to keep the profile low – because we end up dealing with the Nazi questions right off the go,” he said Sunday.
“We do have a number of Facebook pages – and our members are vocal on social media – and we are not hiding.”
Indeed, members are showing the Soldiers of Odin colours throughout the Peace.
Tim Ryan noted on social media over the weekend a chapter is already present in the Peace Region.
“It’s the Peace region. (It) covers Dawson Creek, FSJ, Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge,” he said.
“We would do patrols, in high crime areas is usually what we do. We haven’t had any requests for them yet though.”
A reader in Fort St. John claimed there was recruitment going on with members online.
Billed as a “street patrol fraternity group,” the group’s promotion notes the “Soldiers of Odin (are) a Pro-Canadian charitable non-profit organization in Alberta, with an eye on the community and helping hands for those in need.”
A handful of posts show the group at various functions, and patrolling Grande Prairie streets.
“They aren’t benign. They are recruiting. And it’s working. Do some research,” said Donna Bear Halbert. Kathy Chin agreed.
"That’s their angle, how they legitimize their presence (and give supporters a sound bite to defend them). In Kelowna they also state that they are protecting women."
Travis Benson was a bit more blunt.
“They’re Nazis. Nazis are bad. Why does that need to be said out loud?”
Traditionally, the Soldiers of Odin is known as an anti-immigrant group founded in Kemi, Finland, in October 2015. The SOO has denied claims of being a racist or neo-Nazi group in interviews and on their public Facebook page. However, according to the Finnish public broadcaster Yle, a private Facebook page for certain members of SOO shows racism and Nazi sympathies are high among top members. The group’s nature has raised concerns of anti-immigrant vigilantism.
“There is a stereo type that comes with the name,” says Reimer.
“If we changed the name – we’d still have the connection. We are no longer connected to Finland – and two months after the original group started; the group’s founder, Mika Ranta, (who has connections to the far-right), stepped away because he was casting a shadow,” he adds, noting the situation in Finland that started the group is certainly not the same in northern Canada.
“There are no rape gangs in Dawson Creek.”
“We didn’t want to just do street patrols. We want to be less in people’s face – and part of the master plan is that the good deeds will shine through.”
Online chatter has been hot – on both sides of the issue.
Stephanie Goudie said the decision was straightforward in her mind.
“They are people who have made the choice to align themselves with an anti-immigrant, white supremacist, vigilante group.”
One mother couldn’t believe the defense of the group on social media.
“So if the KKK or actual Nazis marched down the streets of DC, would the reaction be the same? 'I didn't know they were also at a march?'”
Jennifer Beth noted by the Dawson Creek Mirror covering SOO; it gave them a platform.
“You’re giving a group that had no voice in the community a voice and publicity now. Before most people were oblivious to who they were, now inevitably because of the coverage you’re going to connect them with people who are like minded and grow their numbers.”
Heather Reese said ignorance was bliss.
“Those who don’t take a stand against racism and bigotry, are just as bad as the racists and bigots. Remaining silent about their presence speaks volumes.”