Earlier this month, Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston brought to light a shop in downtown Centralia with a sign and other imagery advertising the Asatru Folk Assembly, or AFA.
The group is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center and other watchdog groups as a white supremacist hate group. On its website, the religious organization promotes Pagan, Norse mythology-based beliefs that it claims should only be practiced by white people.
Other Asatru religious groups, including one called “The Troth,” say the AFA has co-opted the religion wrongly, with a spokesperson telling The Chronicle this week it is an “inclusive religion” which the “AFA or other hate groups” merely “claim to practice.”
The mayor’s post garnered attention from The Chronicle, Seattle’s KING 5 TV and McClatchy, a company that owns The Olympian and Tacoma News Tribune. During a meeting earlier this month, Centralia City Councilors Leah Daarud and Elizabeth Cameron, both in at-large positions, voiced disappointment in the mayor’s public stance. The former suggested her actions violated the shopowner’s rights, while the latter suggested the post was “manipulative,” disappointing and embarrassing.
“I’m not aware we have a white supremacy problem,” Cameron said at the March 14 meeting.
On March 22, the AFA tweeted a photo captioned "Washington Ladies' Moot.” It showed at least five women and two children meeting upstairs at The Station in downtown Centralia, a coffee shop owned by Lewis County Coffee Co., the logos of which can be seen on the cups.
During the next council meeting on Tuesday, March 28, several members of the public praised Smith Johnston for taking a stance against the group’s presence in Centralia. Some of them also criticized the two councilors who opposed the post.
“Since you represent thousands of humans … allowing space for groups like this to exist here should not include white supremacist beliefs,” said Lujan Rodriguez, of Centralia, during public comment, in part quoting Daarud’s March 14 statement directly. “I know another council member also mentioned we need to be tolerant of others. However, this is a paradox. You cannot tolerate intolerance.”
When councilor reports came around nearly three hours later, Daarud had nothing to report.
Cameron, however, addressed some of the public’s concerns, saying, “I want to make it crystal clear (quoting the mayor’s original post) that I am absolutely against white supremacy. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding on that in the community. I will repeat that I am proud of our (Black pioneer) founder, George Washington, and his wife Mary, and our inclusion and diversity in the city of Centralia.”
The shop that originally promoted the ideals in question is located at 223 S. Tower Ave. in Centralia. It is a music store owned by Tanner Thayer, and, according to the Department of Licensing, is named “Kultur LLC.” Merriam-Webster defines “Kultur” as referring to “German culture held to be superior especially by militant Nazi(s).” In his shop window hangs a banner for a book he authored and sells through the AFA website, “Asatru Folk Hymns.” On Facebook, other community members have pointed out some of the imagery visible through the store’s window is tied with Nazism, and, when speaking with the mayor, Thayer reportedly “did not refute the idea that whites are superior” to other races.
The Chronicle has made multiple different attempts to reach Thayer, to no avail, including via written note to his mailbox, through the Centralia Downtown Association, which had his phone number, visiting the shop in person three times and by booking a shop tour on his website, which was declined.