An online petition to stop the opening of a church by a "whites only" religious organization in a Minnesota town has obtained more than 120,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
The petition comes after the city council of Murdock, Minn., earlier this month approved a conditional permit to allow use of a church building bought by the Asatru Folk Assembly.
The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the organization as a “neo-Volkisch hate group” that couches “their bigotry in baseless claims of bloodlines grounding the superiority of one’s white identity.”
By Wednesday, a Change.org petition seeking to stop the group from occupying the building in the farming town of 280 people had received approximately 122,300 signatures.
“The group wants to create an all white church; i shouldn't have to explain why that's bad,” Eridan Ampora, who started the online petition, wrote in the page’s description.
“I think they thought they could fly under the radar in a small town like this, but we’d like to keep the pressure on them,” Peter Kennedy, a longtime Murdock resident, told NBC News. “Racism is not welcome here."
Several local residents told NBC that they support the growing Latino population that has come to the city in recent years for job opportunities.
“Just because the council gave them a conditional permit does not mean that the town and people in the area surrounding will not be vigilant in watching and protecting our area,” Jean Lesteberg, who lives in the neighboring town of De Graff, wrote on the city’s Facebook page.
Asatru Folk Assembly denies claims that it is a white supremacist or separatist group.
“We’re not. It’s just simply not true," Allen Turnage, a folk assembly board member, told NBC. "Just because we respect our own culture, that doesn’t mean we are denigrating someone else’s."
The assembly on its website describes itself as “the religion by which the Ethnic European Folk have traditionally related to the Divine and to the world around them,” in which members “honor the Gods under the names given to them by our Germanic/Norse ancestors.”
CNN reported that the city council voted in favor of approving the conditional permit in a 3-1 decision to avoid a prolonged legal fight with the religious organization.
"We as the leaders of the City of Murdock want it to be known that the City of Murdock condemns racism in all of its forms: Conscious, Unconscious, any place, any time, now and in the future," Murdock Mayor Craig Kavanagh said at the meeting where the council approved the permit.
"We are committed to building a community that promotes equal justice and opportunity to every single person regardless of their race."
Kavanagh told NBC that council members were “highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights.”
"We knew that if this was going to be denied, we were going to have a legal battle on our hands that could be pretty expensive,” he added.