Sunday, April 17, 2016

Asatru Prisoner News: Locascio v. Longinetti (with commentary)

Via Religion Clause:
In Locascio v. Longinetti, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46918 (D NJ, April 7, 2016), plaintiff sued after his supervised release was revoked for promoting gang signs, namely wearing a shirt with a design that included a swastika that plaintiff claimed was a religious, not a Nazi, symbol. A New Jersey federal district court permitted plaintiff to move ahead with a suit for an injunction to prevent his religion from being used against him in future parole proceedings. It dismissed his claims for damages and overturning of his parole revocation.
Normally, I don't do a lot of commentary on these prisoner news posts, but I'd like to deviate from that in this case because of the larger issues involved. Let me preface this by saying I have never met or communicated with Mr. Locascio, I have no idea of the sincerity of his belief, and I do not know what he believes in his heart. None of that is relevant to the point I would like to make.

Looking at the opinion itself, it seems as if the plaintiff has a history of being in racist skinhead gangs, got out on parole, and got re-incarcerated because authorities found "Asatru/Odinist" related materials (among other things - these sorts of cases get pretty involved).

First off, the plaintiff (correctly) pointed out that there are a number of Asatru religious symbols that are also associated with racist behavior:
Plaintiff also apparently explained to Tischio that he is a member of the “Asatru/Odinism” faith, and that as a member of that faith, he often wears symbols which he believes are related to his religious beliefs which are also often associated with skinhead or Neo-Nazi organizations including “Thor’s Hammer” and a variation on the swastika. Plaintiff asserts that Tischio informed him that his religious expression would not violate his parole terms, but that he would be required to refrain from “the gang lifestyle” altogether going forward. 
We are also told:
While in Plaintiff’s apartment, they apparently came across Plaintiff’s religious altar and reported this find to their supervisor who apparently suggested that the altar “may be tied to [Plaintiff’s] white supremacist beliefs.”
And:
According to Plaintiff, Longinetti reported the following in the violation charges: “[Plaintiff] claims these items are religious but it would appear he is attempting to mask his supremacist beliefs behind the term religion. Therefore, a residential program is being requested at this time.”
Finally:
Plaintiff continued to argue that he was not participating in gang related and racist activity, but instead had only sought to follow his religious beliefs. (Id.). The officers apparently rejected this argument, however, finding that Plaintiff continued to demonstrate “a racial hate mentality.” 
Reiterating the fact that I don't know this guy or what is in his heart, what distresses me about the opinion in the case is the automatic assumption that legitimate Asatru activities and symbols (wearing a Thor's hammer, sunwheels/swastikas, having an altar (presumably with some sort of identifying Norse things on it like statues of the gods or something; how else do you know it's an altar?), are automatically assumed to be just a religious cover for white supremacist beliefs.

There are plenty of Asatruar out there who have Thor's hammers, and clothing or jewelry or something else with some variation of a swastika on it, and keep an altar, and who are just about as far away from being a white supremacist as you are likely to ever see. But the assumption is, "Thor's Hammer = racist", "Swastika = racist", "Asatru altar = racist".

And who feeds into this notion? Those people who try to build up white supremacist Odinism into a much, much larger phenomenon than it really is, primarily by trying to link it to folkish Heathenry. Outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which include Thor's hammer on their page of "Racist Skinhead Symbols and Tattoos" (now sporting a mild disclaimer that the symbols aren't always racist), Heathens United Against Racism, which regularly tries to inflate the threat from racist Heathens by spuriously associating them with the folkish, and many ordinary universalist Germanic neopagans who simply don't know any better, but pass along the uninformed notion that "folkish = racist".

I can't help but wonder if those people focused on further marginalizing the real racists, rather than trying to build them up into a greater threat than they ever could possibly be for their own gain, and acknowledging the fact that the actual racists are a pathetic handful, then folks on the outside might be less inclined to see a racist skinhead behind every Thor's hammer necklace.

By grossly exaggerating the numbers and influence of racists within Heathenry, the anti-racists do an enormous disservice to those of us who aren't ashamed to be white, but who also don't feel the need to hate or put down people who aren't. That is, the folkish.

For all we know (and again, I have no idea, but I present this as a hypothetical), Mr. Locascio really is trying to turn his back on a racist past, but is unwilling to give up the faith of his ancestors (and why should he?). But because of the relentless drumbeat of those on the political Left, the authorities are left with the impression that there is an enormous and growing threat from some racist tidal wave within Heathenry that simply doesn't exist in real life. But as long as they maintain the illusion that it exists, they not only get to help themselves, but damage Heathenry's reputation overall, slander folkish Heathens by tarring them with the broad brush of racism, and potentially hurt honest Heathen prisoners who want to move to a more positive and productive expression of their faith.

And to do that out of malice, self aggrandizement, or simple political correctness is simply despicable.

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