In February 2016, 15 months before he was accused of stabbing three people on a train in Portland, Oregon, and killing two, Jeremy Christian pledged to kill whoever was elected president of the United States:
“I Hereby Solemnly swear to Die trying to Kill Hillary (Herself a filthy Murderess) Clinton and Donald Trump should they be elected to the post of President in my faire country on (sic) Vinland,” Christian wrote in a Facebook post.
Then he pledged his threat to an ancient Nordic god, as well as Hindu and Egyptian goddesses: “This I swear to Odin, Kali, Bastet and all other Pagan Gods and Goddesses in my Aryan Theosophical Nucleus. This is my duty as a Viking and Patriot.”
The pledge is one of several social media posts that show the 35-year-old’s interest in an extremist version of an ancient Nordic religion known as Odinism. Christian had been interested in Odinism since serving jail time, regularly discussed the religion and once wore an Odinist pendant of Thor’s hammer around his neck, according to a source identified on social media as Christian’s longtime friend.
Christian had been filmed at local rallies in recent weeks ranting about “Vinland,” a term used by extremist Odinists to refer to North America.
“When you see someone yelling, ‘Hail Vinland,’ that raises a lot of flags for us,” said James Calico, an activist who researches racist Odinists and is a member of a group called Heathens United Against Racism.
The influence of radical Odinism on white supremacists, and how these religious beliefs have turned young men into killers, was the subject of a Reveal investigation published the day before Christian went on his rampage. We examined how white supremacists and other racist groups have hijacked a peaceful, ancient religion that has inspired would-be terrorists to kill in the name of Odin and other gods.
Our investigation found at least six cases since 2001 in which professed racist Odinists have been convicted of plotting – or pulling off – domestic terrorism attacks. The killings in Portland represent another attack on civilians by a man who espoused racist opinions and had a strong interest in Odinism.
The Portland attack “is a sign of the times we’re in right now,” said Daryl Johnson, who spent six years as the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security. “These hate crimes and white supremacist attacks are occurring more and more, and Odinism’s reach is getting deeper and deeper into the white supremacy movement.”
A man who goes by “Jack Vermillion” on Facebook, who wouldn’t give his real name for fear of recrimination from people angry about the attack, said he has known Christian for at least 10 years and considers him a good friend. Vermillion refuted claims that Christian harbored racial hatred.
“He’s not a racist, he’s not a white supremacist, he just isn’t,” he said. “He was proud of his heritage, Scandinavian, but he didn’t hate people just for being born in a certain place or a certain race.”
Yet Christian’s Facebook page is awash with hatred of various types. He railed against circumcision and loathed Clinton, but he also poured vitriol on Trump and expressed support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Vermillion said Christian is, at heart, a “troll” who likes to rile up people.
But parts of Christian’s online presence show a far darker side. He posted poetry on his page, including several poems that refer directly to Odinist myths. One, titled, “Descent into the Underworld,” is particularly chilling, given the knife attack he is charged with committing last week:
Vermillion said he and Christian often talked about religion. Christian became interested in Odinism while incarcerated in Oregon State Penitentiary, Vermillion said, and he regularly discussed Odinist theories and history. Vermillion didn’t know whether Christian has ever attended Odinist rituals, but said his friend is interested in many different philosophies.
Johnson said white supremacist Odinists, including the European Kindred, a large Odinist prison gang, have been active in Oregon’s prisons for years. Dennis Stahlnecker, chaplain at Oregon State Penitentiary, estimated that there are “probably about 100” Odinists who meet for rituals in the prison.
On Wednesday, In-Reach Heathen Prison Services, a service of the organization The Troth, which is dedicated to educating people in prison about heathen religions, issued a statement in response to Christian’s apparent interest in racist Odinism. It reads in part:
“Racist groups within prisons often engage in bullying tactics to instill fear into inmates who do not hold such views, and the racists’ rhetoric and dominance cause them to be the Heathens most visible to the correctional officers, chaplains, and administrators, who often do not understand the dynamics at play. As such, the racists become who defines Heathenry in many of these facilities.”
Karl E. H. Seigfried, president of Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago, who writes about myth and religion on The Norse Mythology Blog, challenges any claim that a single religious tradition drove Christian’s actions.
“Mr. Christian’s posts invoke Lilith (Jewish), Tiamat (Babylonian), and Lucifer,” Seigfried wrote in an email. “His oath ‘to Odin, Kali, Bastet and all other Pagan Gods and Goddesses in my Aryan Theosophical Nucleus’ concludes by invoking Jesus Christ and Bernie Sanders. This muddles together Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, Christian, and Jewish figures with ‘an unsectarian body of seekers’ whose founder was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.
“To pick one thread out of this insane tapestry and declare it to be the religious determiner of Mr. Christian’s hate would be nonsensical.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Oregon State Penitentiary’s chaplain. It is Dennis Stahlnecker.