Soldiers of Odin's growth in Sweden has exploded, says the group's spokesman Mikael Johansson in an interview with the news outlet Fria Tider. And according to him, they have received overwhelmingly positive reports from the public. He also says that people who are previously convicted of a crime can participate - to get a "chance to do the right thing."
- It's only positive comments. Immigrants are also sympathetic to what we do, he says.
Soldiers of Odin has in little over a month become a nationwide phenomenon in Sweden. The first patrol took to the streets of Stockholm on March 12, since then the vigilante group has spread to some twenty Swedish cities.
Gothenburg, Malmö, Borlänge, Trelleborg, Borås, Uppsala and Jönköping are some of them. But there are more cities and more are on the way, says Johansson to Fria Tider.
- Not all have come out yet because people are waiting for clothes and stuff. From the time a group starts up (in a city) to it begins to appear on the streets, it usually takes a month, he explains.
Mikael Johansson is 37 years old and lives in a suburb south of Stockholm. He has a background from the now defunct National Democrats, but just as "support member," he says.
It was Mikael Johansson who took the initiative to Soldiers of Odin's first patrol in Sweden, last month.
- The support group was already there when I joined, since, I was the initiator so it became active, he explains.
He also says that he most of all wished that the police had more resources so they could curb violence and crime in society.
- I'm sick of all the shit that happens everywhere. Why it has increased with a lot of violent crimes, and girls who have been molested, I leave unsaid, but it is enough now.
- I wish the police had all the resources they need, but there are cut-downs.
Soldiers of Odin was started in Finland in October last year, partly as a reaction against the increasing insecurity in society because of assaults and attacks on Finnish women by asylum seekers and other men with immigrant backgrounds.
The founder, named Mika Ranta, has by Finnish state media been accused of "links to" Nazism. Among other things, through Nazi content on Facebook Pages and contacts with the Finnish Nazi resistance movement.
Ranta was additionally convicted of, along with some friends, assaulting two men with immigrant backgrounds at a restaurant in Kemi in 2005.
Leftist liberal media have adopted a hostile attitude towards the vigilante group. When some members were ambushed and assaulted in Gothenburg, by far-left extremists, several mainstream newspapers blamed the group itself, even though they were victims, according to the police.
"Soldiers of Odin caused a brawl in Gothenburg" claimed Dagens Nyheter. Other newspapers followed a similar media slant in their articles.
Some of the criticism is justified, however. Several of those in the Soldiers of Odin, who say they wants to curb crime in the community, are themselves convicted of crimes, and some of them have been in prison.
- We, the Soldiers of Odin, do not think we have a lifetime punishment in Sweden because some have made mistakes earlier in life, says Johansson and adds:
- One can actually get a chance to do the right thing, and this is surely a good opportunity for convicted criminals to give back to the community.
Mikael Johansson himself is convicted three times for driving without a license after he got it revoked after speeding.
- Of course it was not so smart, he says, but adds that it happened over ten years ago, when he was younger.
However, men who are convicted of rape or domestic violence are not welcome as a Soldier of Odin, clarifies Mikael Johansson.
- Such I do not want to join at all, I'd like to say. We've Supporter members that we do not review the way as our full members, and it may happen that one or two who are convicted of various things slip in.
- Our growth has exploded, so we do not really have an eye on everybody.
When Fria Tider asks where the line goes and how serious crimes the Soldiers of Odin can tolerate, Mikael Johansson answers:
- Have you made a mistake in life, say, an assault or a robbery, depending on how long ago, if you are convicted of it and have served time for the crime, I do not think it will affect whether you want to do the right thing in life.
So robbers and assault criminals are okay, but not if you are convicted of domestic violence or rape?
- My personal opinion is that a woman is not to be touched in any violent manner whatsoever. And as a group such as Soldiers of Odin we do not want people convicted of rape, it should be safe for everyone.
- Unfortunately, there are people who feel uncomfortable when we patrol, but it is because the media have described us the wrong way, he adds.
Reminiscent of Motorcycle Clubs
Soldiers of Odin's approach is reminiscent to some extent of what motorcycle clubs often use. A distinction between full members and "supporters" and at least in Finland they also use steps as "prospects" for those who are about to become full members. Johansson says that in the present situation, there are over hundred full members in Sweden.
Those who want to become full members are checked out, often existing members recommend new ones. Sometimes, however, there are glitches in the recruitment, recognises Johansson.
- If it later emerges that the person is unfit to be with us, we have a talk so that he may explain himself, he says.
But even those who are not full members are welcome to participate in patrols, and in total there are several hundred active vigilantes.
- Our support members who want to join and get involved are obviously welcome too, says Mikael Johansson.
Johansson says that the various local departments report back to him about how the patrolling goes, but that they are simultaneously independent departments.
According to Mikael Johansson, Soldiers of Odin have intervened on several occasions when there have been fights or problems on the town during patrolling. The most famous event is when vigilantes intervened and stopped a violent robbery in the old town in Stockholm.
In most cases it has been about to go between fractions fighting. At one point in Stockholm, Soldiers of Odin averted a brawl in a taxi queue, on another occasion the group helped security guards to separate troublemakers outside a tavern.
- Outside of a gay club there were two girls who had been feuding, one of which had been hit with a glass bottle in the head. One of the girls continued to behave aggressively so we had to intervene and help the bouncers, says Johansson.
Despite the negative writings in the media, and despite some, in his own experience, feel discomfort when they see the Soldiers of Odin patrolling the streets, Mikael Johansson says that the response from the public is overwhelmingly positive.
- The majority of those who are talking to us is very positive, from young people to older people who have been out for a glass of wine. I would say that 99 percent of the response is only good response, when we get a chance to explain what we really do and stand for, says Johansson and continues:
- It's only positive comments. Immigrants are also sympathetic to what we do.
He also says that only on a few occasions they have been attacked, and that it was left-wing extremists who were behind it.
- For our part here in Stockholm it has been very quiet. We've got to be at peace with all sides. It's just in Gothenburg, Malmö and Borlange they have been exposed to violence, he says.
Target for AFA
Mikael Johansson says the far-left extremists from AFA try to join the Soldiers of Odin's different Facebook groups in order to identify and discredit members.
- Some have tried to join, he says.
But he is also clear on that they will not be intimidated by the extreme left and the Soldiers of Odin will continue with their patrols.
- We will not give in, no matter what they hope for from the left, he says.
Soldiers of Odin intervened and stopped violent robbery
Soldiers of Odin emerge in Sweden - and several other countries
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