Myriad backlash and violent threats have led organizers to seek a new venue for a planned book-signing and speech Saturday afternoon in Independence.
Local store owner Angela Krout had booked Bryan Wilton, a proponent of the northern European-based pagan faith Asatru, to speak at her small Main Street store Mojo Mamas. The event had been scheduled for the Cotillion Room and Garden on U.S. 40 in Independence, after advance sales exceeded what she hoped would be 20 to 30 crammed into her little store near the Square, Mojo Mamas.
But after threats of protest, based on allegations that Wilton and his group are neo-Nazis or white supremacists, as well as distributed flyers making similar claims, Krout and representatives of the Cotillion mutually agreed to cancel the event there.
Krout and Wilton's group, the Iron Bone & Stone Asatru Kindred, are working to find a private location to host the event, as Krout said she might have had to cap the crowd at 200 at the Cotillion and many people were traveling from outside the metro area. If the event is indeed rescheduled for this weekend, the time and location would be disclosed on a need-to-know basis for safety concerns.
“It's a shame, and I love Independence,” said Krout, who opened her store that sells metaphysical goods about 18 months ago. “We just wanted to peacefully gather and have people hear his message.”
Krout herself does not follow Asatru, though she said she has read Wilton's latest book “Aegir's Feast,” heard some speeches and doesn't see Wilton and his views the way many others have portrayed. His message, she said, is based on self-empowerment.
“It's about personal responsibility and accountability,” she said.
Wilton, when reached by phone from his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, said the sudden backlash about his appearance was the last thing he wanted to see and that it likely ballooned after last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Wilton denies the alleged racist labels attached to him and said that instead of simply staying away or not associating with his event, his opponents have spread false accusations.
“It's disappointing to see the lies, outright lies,” Wilton said. “Emotions are pretty high with social media, and there's not real accountability.”
Krout said she's been called a Nazi herself for hosting Wilton, something that couldn't be further from the truth given her mixed lineage and support of the gay community, among other things. Furthermore, she said, Cotillion employees had been threatened about Wilton's scheduled appearance. In a letter confirming the cancellation, Rodney Ames, an attorney representing the Cotillion, said employees had been followed after leaving the facility.
Krout said she could have handled a protest from across the street on U.S. 40, but the threats went beyond that. Police have periodically checked her store for safety reasons, she said.
“Certainly we were concerned about any safety conditions that might arise,” Ames said, adding that Krout will be refunded for the cancellation. “They seemed concerned about safety issues, as well, they were gracious about it.
“It's unfortunate. We're not taking a position on what their message is, one way or another. (The Cotillion) understood it to be a book signing of an author.”
After watching coverage of the Charlottesville events, Wilton said he saw his speech as an opportunity to provide people with an insightful message.
“All of these people have lost the ability to simply talk (about issues),” he said.
Wilton is unabashedly proud of his ancient northern European heritage, but “that doesn't mean I don't like any other groups.
“It's not just for one group of people,” he said of his message. “Any person that wanted to come and listen to me, I would challenge them to leave and not think a little differently about themselves.”