When Elwin La Fae Herman, 61, moved to Ethel with new-at-the-time husband Tom Herman, 62, in 2011 — according to marriage records published in The Chronicle — she founded her current business, a Pagan and “Core Magic” spirituality-based retreat called Sacred Spiral Sanctuary.
The Chronicle, in 2015 and 2019, wrote a preview for an event she was hosting and a feature story on the business, respectively. The latter mentions her attending classes at the “Center of Light Portland,” from which Elwin Herman’s social media states she possesses a doctorate. She also states she previously went by the name Linda Medford. While her school is not discoverable online, the Ethel couple’s educational background, or even their former names, are far from the most curious thing about them.
In 1990, a striking photo was taken by a New Hampshire-Maine newspaper photographer, David Mendelsohn. It was republished in 2014 by the New Hampshire magazine.
It shows a group of five regalia-sporting members of the Ku Klux Klan with one, unabashedly uncovered face: a smiling Tom Herman. At age 27, he worked for the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department in New Hampshire and, according to excerpts from The Boston Globe, described himself as the “grand secretary” of the Ku Klux Klan in New Hampshire and Maine. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was later fired for his connection to the racist group.
After a recent story of a Centralia man with ties to a separate white supremacist group, Asatru Folk Assembly or AFA, the Lewis County-based Southwest Washington Anti-Racism Movement (SWARM) posted on social media about the Hermans. This wasn’t the first time the group had done so, previously calling attention to Elwin Herman’s own ties to the AFA, for which she was a speaker during a 2020 event with the group’s founder, and her son, Joshua Thompson, being active on an online white supremacist message board called Stormfront.
Asked about the photo of Tom Herman with the Klan late last week, Elwin Herman said she is familiar with it and her husband’s past.
“He was connected to the KKK over 30 years ago,” she said in an interview. “He broke all ties and has done everything that he can to be a better person. Now, I didn't know him at the time. I met him many years later. And when I first found out, I had a real hard time with it myself.”
She later added, “Everybody has mistakes in their lives. And yes, this was a big one. But, he denounced, walked away and continued on with his life.”
Dr. Alon Milwicki, who holds a doctorate in history related to Neo-Nazism and who studies the AFA for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Chronicle, “It is possible to leave that life, but it is not easy. Figuring out if someone is genuine is even harder. Actions always speak louder than words in those regards for sure.”
Of her son’s online activity, Elwin Herman said, “No, I wasn't aware of what my son posted as he is an adult, but I believe that post was 10 years ago.”
SWARM provided The Chronicle with screenshots of Thompson’s activity on the online forum from as recently as 2021.
As for the 2020 AFA event, Elwin Herman is listed on the program as a speaker right before Steve McNallen, the group’s founder. The AFA founded a “whites-only” church in Missouri within the last three years, which made national news.
“I attended an event and spoke about connecting with land spirits. I was not aware at the time it was an AFA event,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I think what's most important is owning your mistakes.”
Asked if she denounces the AFA and what it stands for, she said, “Absolutely.”
When Seattle TV station KING 5 reported on the Centralia business just days after The Chronicle’s story, a reporter from the station looked into an incorporated religious organization locally called the Asatru Land Union, also in Centralia.
“Elizabeth MacBrygyde of Centralia, listed as an officer in both organizations, told KING 5 that her group is not connected to Thayer or the Asatru Folk Assembly,” the report stated.
Elwin Herman knows the people involved in the Land Union, she said, as a practitioner of the Asatru religion. She declined to provide more detail on their relationship as many people who practice Pagan worship tend to not be public about it, she said.
The Icelandic word “Asatru” is a religion based on worship of ancient Viking spirits. It’s also known as Heathenism or modern Paganism. The AFA has co-opted the original meaning of the word, still practicing the religion but specifically excluding non-white people.
During the interview with KING 5, MacBrygde said the AFA gives Asatru a bad reputation, but then added, “Everybody seems to be allowed to have their own ethnocentric, cultural ways except for white people. Why is that?”
On Elwin Herman denouncing the AFA and KKK, SWARM said in an email, “While we don't believe her or Tom are currently active in the KKK, we do believe that they are quietly helping to normalize white nationalism in this area.”